Many people want a lush, well-maintained lawn as a place for their children to run and play. Unfortunately, many of the chemicals used to create that appearance can be dangerous for children and pets, and cause serious environmental problems. Through careful land management practices, you can have a beautiful lawn that is also safe and environmentally friendly.
Hazards Of Commercial Fertilizers
Most commercial fertilizers contain synthetic urea, a compound similar to the natural urea found in urine. It is high in nitrogen, which makes it a good fertilizer. Unfortunately, high nitrogen fertilizers can be toxic. This is why lawn care companies and fertilizer manufacturers use signs and labels to warn people to stay off the grass after fertilization. Urea fertilizers are highly water soluble, so the lawn will be safer for play after a heavy rain washes the excess nitrogen off the grass.
To determine whether your fertilizer contains urea, look at the three digit nutrient analysis: 14-2-2, for example. The first number indicates the amount of nitrogen in the fertilizer. Any number over 13 is most likely derived from urea, even in products labeled "organic."
Environmental Damage Caused By Fertilizers
Most commercial fertilizers contain phosphorus, which contributes to algae growth in lakes and streams. According to a report by the Ft. Wayne, IN, Journal Gazette, phosphorus from fertilizers was a major factor in the closing of the popular Grand Lake St. Marys state park in Ohio. Phosphorus in runoff caused rapid growth of toxic cynobacteria, a type of algae that produces neurotoxins.
There are many lawn fertilizers on the market that are labeled "organic," but some use the same chemicals, such as urea and phosphorus, that are present in mainstream fertilizers. Read the labels and look for ingredients such as blood meal that provide nitrogen.
If you are concerned about the toxicity and environmental effects of lawn fertilizers, consider a more natural landscape plan that includes native trees, shrubs and other plants. Reducing the size of your lawn and growing grass only where you really use it, such as near play equipment and seating areas, automatically reduces the need for lawn fertilizers.
When you mow, leave the grass clippings where they lie. They will decompose and provide a natural source of compost to fertilize your lawn.
Compost is a natural fertilizer that is especially useful in gardens, flower beds and around trees and shrubs. While you can buy commercially prepared compost, homemade is generally better because it is made from a variety of materials. Commercial composts are made from waste materials from paper mills and other manufacturing operations. Because they are made from a single material, they are not as balanced as compost produced at home. The best compost is generated from a balanced mixture of grass clippings, kitchen scraps and dry leaves.