Sometimes TRWA gets questions from people reading posts on the internet. One recent question was “is fertilizer poison?”.
The answer is yes! (read the bag)
This is why bags of even basic turf fertilizer have cautions including:
- “Keep out of reach of children”,
- “Eye contact with contents may cause irritation”,
- “Do not apply near water, storm drains, or drainage ditches”,
- “Do not apply if heavy rain is expected”
- “Apply this product only to your lawn and sweep any product that lands on the driveway, sidewalk, or street back onto your lawn” (emphasis added).
Fertilizer with weed control have a stronger and longer list of warnings including:
- “Keep out of reach of children”
- “Causes moderate eye irritation”
- “Wear long-sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes and socks”
- “Do not allow product to contact people or pets directly”
- “Do not allow people or pets to enter treated areas until dusts have settled”
- “This pesticide is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates and may adversely affect non-target plants” (underline added)
- “To protect the environment, do not allow pesticide to enter or run off into stormdrains, drainage ditches, gutters or surface waters” (emphasis added)
- “The use of this chemical in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in groundwater contamination”
- “Application around a cistern or well may result in contamination of drinking water or groundwater”.
In addition to the poisonous effects mentioned above, the active ingredient(s) in fertilizer nitrogen (and for some fertilizers e.g. starter fertilizer nitrogen and phosphorus) causes aquatic weeds and algae to grow like crazy. Algae blooms make waters unfit for recreation and rob waters of oxygen when bacteria blooms experience decay.
In the summer of 2017 MassDEP continuous monitoring buoys in upper Mount Hope Bay at the mouths of the Taunton and Coles Rivers measured low dissolved oxygen levels which violate state standards making these areas of the Bay off-limits to fish and aquatic life during these low dissolved oxygen periods. The measurements were concurrent with high algae and nitrogen levels demonstrating that the blooms were caused by nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous).
What’s a responsible homeowner to do?
Read and take seriously the warnings on the fertilizer bag!
- Go for the minimum lawn you need. Plant as much of your property as possible with low maintenance natural native vegetation;
- Maintain a buffer around your lawn area so any water that drains off goes into the soil and not into the street;
- Use as little fertilizer as possible especially if you have a well or live near a water body including small streams and drainage ditches draining to streams. Nitrogen and lawn pesticides dissolve and flow with groundwater to wells and water bodies causing well contamination;
- The most important thing you can do whether you apply fertilizer yourself or hire someone to do it for you is make sure all fertilizer is swept or blown from hard surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and roadways back onto the lawn when the job is done so it doesn’t wash into a stormdrain!