Check out phosphorus content in your lawn fertilizer

2011-03-26T22:30:00Z Check out phosphorus content in your lawn fertilizerBy KATHRYN CATES MOORE / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Most Lincoln yards don't start out as prime growing spots. Our city is notorious for its heavy clay soil; because of that, fertilizers sometimes are applied with a heavy hand at this time of year.

Ellen Wright, environmental health educator for the city Public Works/Utilities Department, would like you to think before you spread fertilizer this year.

She is not anti-fertilizer, Wright said. But part of her job is to educate homeowners about the benefits of using a low-phosphorus fertilizer. Not only is it good for your lawn, it is better for our environment.

Her interest in the topic goes back to July 2006, when Lincoln spent $5.5 million to dredge Holmes Lake and refill it. After that was completed, the 6,000-plus homeowners in the watershed area were schooled on rain barrels, rain gardens and low-phosphorus fertilizers as ways of curbing runoff back into the newly refreshed Holmes Lake.

Runoff of excess fertilizer is often the cause of algae blooms in lakes and streams. Wright has one fertilizer statistic that usually gets a shocked response from homeowners: One pound of excess fertilizer can create 300 to 500 pounds of blue-green algae.

"It's enough to make you think and begin to consider the long-term effects," Wright said.

Because April is prime time for fertilizing lawns, Wright is hoping homeowners will consider using low-phosphorus fertilizers. A city map of soil test results, done in 2008-2009, found most of the city had high levels of phosphorus in the soils.

Having a soil test is the only way to determine your yard's soil makeup, Wright said. Kits are available at hardware stores and garden centers for $5 to $25. Area agricultural laboratories also offer testing.

Knowing what to look for on the fertilizer bag is important. The three numbers, which are required to be on the bag, are always in the same order and dubbed N, P, and K by gardeners. The "N" represents the percent of nitrogen, the "P" is for phosphorus and the "K" is for potassium.

Wright encourages seeking a phosphorus number of 3 or below in fertilizers for yards that already are  high in phosphorus. Many local garden centers carry such fertilizers, and Scotts makes a low-phosphorus fertilizer, also.

If you live in the Holmes Lake watershed area and received a lawn care survey in the mail, you can take the completed survey to Campbell's Nursery and Garden Center, 56th Street and Pine Lake Road, and receive a free bag of no-phosphorus fertilizer, while supplies lasts, Wright said.

Reach Kathryn Cates Moore at 402-473-7214 or at  kmoore@journalstar.com.

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