How You Can Help
Test Your Soil
Test your soil before applying fertilizers. Soils in many parts of the Finger Lakes have an adequate amount of phosphorus to grow a healthy lawn. Testing your soil will save you money and will prevent applying excess phosphorus. Contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office for more information or to purchase a soil test bag. Click here for instructions on how to collect a soil sample.
Use only 0-phosphate fertilizer unless a soil test indicates the need for a low phosphorus fertilizer. Using a higher percentage could degrade water quality and is usually unnecessary to maintain a healthy lawn. 0-phosphate fertilizer can be purchased at the Cayuga County Soil & Water Conservation District.
Only apply lawn fertilizer in the fall when grass needs the nutrients to develop a strong root system. Time the application when the forecast is rain-free. Sweep up any spillage immediately and avoid fertilizing near storm drains or waterways.
Pick Up Pet Waste
Pet waste contains phosphorus that can run off into streams and lakes with storm water. Pick up pet waste promptly and flush it in the toilet or place in the garbage. Never drop pest waste in streets or ditches.
Look for convenient pet waste disposal stations at local parks in Cayuga and Owasco Lake Watersheds.
Properly Dispose of Yard Waste
Yard waste such as leaves and grass clippings can contribute significant amounts of phosphorus to water ways. Keep these wastes out of ditches, streets, storm drains, and streams. Leaves can be composted and grass clippings provide a natural fertilizer if left on the lawn.
Plant Bare Areas
Exposed soil, and the phosphorus attached to soil particles, is easily washed away with rain. Keep soil covered with vegetation or mulch. Plants reduce the chance that phosphorus will reach waterways because grass, shrubs, and trees slow the speed and decreases the amount of water runoff.
Maintain Your Septic System
Wastewater contains phosphorus. An improperly maintained septic system can contaminate nearby waterways. Good maintenance includes regular system inspections by a certified professional and pumping at least once every three years. Cayuga County Division of Environmental Health can provide guidelines for maintaining septic systems.
Avoid Cleaners and Detergents that Contain Phosphates
Phosphates were banned from most household cleaning products in 1976 but some products like dishwasher detergent and car and boat washes may still contain phosphates. Check labels before you buy cleaning products and choose phosphate free brands. And remember, biodegradable doesn't mean the product is low in phosphorus.
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Page updated 9/29/08