One of the biggest problems facing the James River is stormwater runoff, particularly the Nitrogen and Phosphorous that come with it from sources like fertilizers from our lawns, agricultural fields, and wastewater treatment plants. When you have excess of these nutrients, they produce too much growth, particularly algal blooms, that can block sunlight to our underwater grasses. As the algae dies, they decrease oxygen creating “dead zones” that can harm the critters that live in the James River and the Chesapeake Bay.
It is important for everyone to do their part in reducing Nitrogen and Phosphorous from entering the James including citizens, government, farmers, and industry. One area that many residents of the James River basin can have a positive impact is in our fertilizing habits. People love to have a beautiful green lawn, but that takes fertilizer right!? What if I told you that you could have healthy grass, but also a healthy James River? Here are 3 tips that will help do just that:
- Test your soil: Before fertilizing, have your soil tested to determine what nutrients your lawn actually needs. Soil testing is inexpensive and widely available through the Virginia Cooperative Extension. The results will tell you exactly what your soil is lacking and how much to use. It is also important to fertilize at the correct time of year and not right before a rain event. In Virginia, the best time to fertilize is the fall.
- Compost: One of the best ways to improve the structure of your soil is to top-dress your lawn with 1/4” of fine compost at least once a year, preferably between September and November. Compost is full of life and improves drainage, reduces pest and disease problems, attracts the good insects and worms, nourishes your soil with important nutrients, which reduces the need for fertilizer, and also helps your soil retain moisture. You can either buy compost or use homemade compost from your own pile. To learn more about how to use compost see “Using Compost in Your Landscape”.
- Aerate your lawn: Most lawns are compacted, which makes it difficult for oxygen, water, and nutrients to seep below the surface. By aerating your lawn you are creating spaces that allow the air, water, and nutrients to access the roots where they can do some good. Aerating also pulls some soil to the surface, which helps decompose thatch. It is even better if you apply compost right after you aerate. Most lawns in Virginia are cool-season grasses and the best time to aerate is between September and November. If you have warm-season grasses the best time is early April to late August. Information about aerating is available through the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Replace an area of your lawn with a native planting bed! The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has a great new Yard Design Tool that will help you design a Conservation Landscape and if you live in the middle James River watershed, you may be able to get financial assistance!