Every property has the potential to serve our land and air by soaking up stormwater, cleaning our air and also providing habitat for birds and other wildlife. You can help by following sustainable landscaping practices, learning about alternative landscape designs, and educating your customers.
Incorporate Sustainable Landscaping
Sustainable lawn care involves more than just ending the use of synthetic pesticides or herbicides. With sustainable landscaping, the soil, plants, and animals actually sustain each other.
'Keep It On Your Property' Philosophy
The primary approach is to keep everything on the owners own landscaping; fertilizer, stormwater, grass clippings, leaves and other reasonable yard waste that contributes to the yard's natural nutrients. Following the “keep it on your lawn” approach drives each property to serve the environment and can do so economically for your customer.
Find Alternatives to Grass
Consider grassy areas that could converted to any multitude of gardens such as meadow grasses, wildflower gardens, other alternative ground covers or rain gardens to lower the time and cost of mowing. (Rutgers student paper on alternative ground covers)
Keep it Natural
Follow the township fertilizer ordinance, which include blackout dates from November 1st to March 1st and requires certification (ProFACT certification). The Certified Fertilizer Applicator fee is $75 for the first year, $25 annual fee for subsequent three years. Encourage your clients to use organic fertilizer, compost, shredded leaves, and grass clippings to provide a lawn’s nutrients.
Strengthen the Soil
Testing soil is typically required and reduces costs when it may not be necessary. To build healthy soil, increase its organic matter, restore proper pH, and reduce the application of fungicides and acidic fertilizers.
Incorporate a diversity of native plants and eliminate invasive or exotic species. To prevent pest destruction, avoid over-planting a single plant species. Find local native plant sales here (can we link to local nurseries?)
Let it Rain
Berkeley Heights is extremely sensitive to wet seasons. Because of soil composition, rainwater here tends to go directly into storm drains which has a higher potential to pollute waterways. The soil itself and plantings are the best filter for this water. The New Jersey Stormwater Best Practices Manual aims to design natural systems that get stormwater absorbed efficiently by both the land and plantings.
Apply water infrequently and allow the soil to dry in between. Native plants naturally endure droughts. Consider an irrigation audit to ensure best practices are being followed. Automatic irrigation systems are also required to have rain sensors to avoid overwatering.
Shift Away From Gas-Powered Lawn Mowing Equipment
There’s a growing awareness of the health implications and nuisance of leaf blowers and lawnmowers. The best practice is to shift away from leaf blowers and mowing as much as practicable so that leaves and grass clippings can naturally fertilize yards. Research options for electric equipment, so you can find opportunities to reduce noise but meet your customer’s needs. Berkeley Heights noise ordinance restricts the use of powered lawn equipment prior to 7am daily but encourages noises to be minimized until after 8am.
(EXAMPLE OF RAIN GARDEN BELOW)
A Crash Course on Lawn Fertilizing
Fertilizing your lawn can easily be a wasteful endeavor if done without certain considerations. Generally, fertilizer is best applied when plants need food or are actively growing. Otherwise, expensive fertilizer washes straight to storm drains.
Berkeley Heights’ ordinance is written accordingly, prohibiting application of fertilizer with phosphorus and nitrogen between November 15 and February 15. Lawns are going dormant in November and not absorbing any nutrients between those dates.
The law also requires the use of soil tests, and it is best practice to do one for best results (explained below). The fertilizer law also requires all lawn care professionals who apply fertilizer to be certified so they know how and when to apply fertilizer.
Soil tests are available at garden stores, online or visit Rutgers: Soil Testing Kits.
Why Be Careful?
A limited amount of nitrogen and phosphorus is important for healthy plant life. However, an overabundance not only harms lawns, but fertilizers washing into waterways can stimulate excessive algae and weed growth. This in turn depletes oxygen from the water and reduces the sunlight needed for healthy aquatic life. This is one way algae blooms occur.
Soil tests save money by showing the appropriate application of nutrients and lime. Don't apply nutrients that your soil doesn't need; instead, invest in nutrients that will bring about healthy growth and yields.
Do not apply fertilizers to impervious surfaces such as driveways or sidewalks, where they might wash off into the street. Sweep fertilizer on impervious surfaces back into the grass or garden.
The Big Picture
Groundwater is part of the natural hydrological cycle: Water from rainfall infiltrates into the ground where either we capture it for consumption, or it evaporates (from surface water) or transpires (from vegetation) where clouds are eventually “seeded” to create rain.
We humans heavily influence this cycle. From the rain running off impervious surfaces until it rises back into the atmosphere, water carrying anything we store, drop or dispose of on the ground can harm marine life.
It may not seem like much when it’s a few drops of oil, litter, or unabsorbed fertilizers, but it adds up when you include each dwelling, vehicle and person in a township.
Think of your yard (soil, plants, trees) as a great filter. Water that is allowed to seep into the ground where it falls, filters nearly every harmful element that could otherwise wash directly to a storm drain and immediately to a stream, river or ocean.
- Once you have the results of the soil test, use the Rutgers fact sheets to guide you in applying fertilizer: Rutgers NJAES: Fertilizing the Home Lawn or Rutgers Cooperative: How to Protect Water Quality and Have a Beautiful Lawn
- There are many resources to help create a healthy yard and water. Visit Jersey-Friendly Yards
- Tips for healthy lawns
- Rutgers Soil Tests