Earth Matters: Your choices in fertilizer matter!

The Island Now
Lynn Capuano, President Terrapin Environmental Solutions Inc.

Last week I wrote about how excessive amounts of nutrients like nitrogen are harming our waters and promised to give you some things you can do at home to reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching our waters.

These are some simple steps that if we all took could really impact the quality and health of our waters.
Since fertilizers are one of the biggest contributors of nitrogen to Long Island waters, a really simple thing to do is change the fertilizer used on your lawn and garden.

Choose a fertilizer with a 50 percent water-insoluble nitrogen content and no more than 12 [percemt nitrogen content overall.

Milorganite, Safer Brand, Scott’s, Kellogg, Lilly Miller, Jobe’s and Sunniland are some brands you can look into. Talk to your landscaper and insist the company use a fertilizer that meets these nitrogen content requirements.
If you want to do a little more, consider using organic alternatives to traditional fertilizers. Organic fertilizers matter because they contain only natural materials. Inorganic fertilizers are made of man-made materials and may be manufactured using fossil fuels.

Overuse of inorganic fertilizers can cause the buildup of damaging salts and minerals that, over time, can harm your plants and lawn. Organic fertilizers may act more slowly, but they last longer and will not ͞overfertilize.͟

There are a number of organic fertilizers on the market and they can be found at any garden store.
For those of you that have some time and like to spend it in the garden, consider making your own fertilizer. The first step is to get your soil tested which you can do through the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Then you know exactly what nutrients you need for your lawn and garden based on the specifics of your own soil and the plants you are growing. You can look for the right store-bought organic fertilizer or mix your own fertilizer.

There are lots of sites on line with directions on mixing your own fertilizer and plenty of books in the library to guide you, so I won’t try to do that here. To get you started though, take a look at
Alternatively, one of the simplest ways to start nourishing your soil and your plants is by using compost that you make at home.

Compost is decomposed organic matter rich in nutrients that are excellent for your garden. The Town of North Hempstead offers a program that provides you with a discounted compost bin that you can use to collect organic matter like fruit and vegetable scraps and lawn clippings.

By next growing season, you’ll have beautiful rich compost to apply to your lawn and garden and you’ll have reduced your waste stream in the process. Not to mention what a great lesson for your children to see how food scraps can turn into rich compost with the help of worms and heat.

I call it black gold because there is nothing better for your garden and making it means turning trash into something highly valuable. Just take a look at the cost of compost the next time you’re at the garden store.
Some final steps you can take to reduce your use of nitrogen include letting your grass grow naturally without the use of fertilizer. Take a look around your neighborhood and see how the lawns without the yellow flags warning of fertilizer application look. Maybe you can tell a difference, but is it that significant?

Can you change your expectations for your lawn a bit for the larger benefit of protecting our water?

Consider replacing some of your lawn with plants native to this area that attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. These plants naturally nourish your soil and help absorb rain and filter rainwater before it enters the aquifer system.

Places like the Long Island Native Plant Nursery can help you identify the right plants for your soil and light conditions. Their website is It’s incumbent on us all to understand the nitrogen issue and do something about it.
Take a few minutes and make a change in your own home that will make a difference across the Island.

TAGGED: dec, fertilizer, nitrogen
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