Avoiding fertilizer related problems

Carolina Clear

Fertilizer can be used to keep your yard and lawn healthy and vibrant, but it must be used properly to avoid fertilizer related problems.


Many trees and landscape plants need little or no fertilizer once they are established. Applying too much fertilizer can lead to excess growth, insect and disease problems, and can run off into waterways. 


Sarah Rogers, a Water Resources Agent for Clemson Extension likes to think of fertilizer as vitamins for your plants. “Just like we wouldn’t take a whole bottle of vitamins, you don’t want to put too much down because the ground and plants are going to soak up what it needs and the rest is going to sit on top, waiting to get washed away by the next rain storm.” When applying fertilizer, be sure you are following the label and do not exceed the recommended dosage of 1 pound per nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. 

When fertilizer gets into our waterways, it can lead to algae blooms and fish kills. Once in our waterways, fertilizers provide excess nitrogen and phosphorus, causing explosive growth of aquatic plants such as algae. When these aquatic plants die, they consume the oxygen in the water, which can harm or even kill macroinvertebrates and fish.

Sarah Rogers says “Algae blooms are something we are hearing more and more about. I get alot of calls from HOAs that have ugly green or smelly ponds, and no one likes that. That is often due to nutrient overload, and those nutrients are coming from the fertilizer.”

An easy way to keep fertilizer out of a stormwater ponds is to not apply near the pond, and to let a vegetative buffer grow around the pond.

A vegetative buffer is basically just native plants or grasses that are acting as a filter and a blockade to any fertilizers or chemicals that are running off. They act like sponges, they soak in those nutrients and stop them, which allow them to infiltrate and filter through the ground, which is a natural way to clean it.

And when spreading fertilizer, if any of it gets on pavement or concrete, sweep it up and put it where it is needed. Also, don’t fertilize if rain is expected, it will just wash away.  

And the number one rule of fertilizing… only apply what is needed. To find out what nutrients your soil needs, bring a sample to your local Clemson Extension for a six dollar soil test.  The analysis will provide you with a list of nutrients you are lacking and tell you exactly what you need to supplement your soil.

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