Falling Leaves – Pretty But Dangerous To Waterways

Allen D. Owings, Koske, Thomas J., Fontenot, Kathryn  |  5/16/2007 1:20:43 AM

Pretty as fall leaves are, they are a potential water pollutant. They can endanger aquatic life and are especially a problem when extra downed leaves accumulate from tropical storms.

Avoid spreading any fertilizers near bodies of water.

The fall season is a wonderful time to spend time outdoors... that is, unless you are "cleaning up" the yard. While grass clippings are a constant in yard maintenance, falling leaves become an even bigger task during the fall season. If not properly disposed of, both leaves and lawn clippings may become a potential surface-water pollutant.

Leaves and lawn clippings are organic matter that naturally leach nutrients and compost into soluble nutrients and minerals. Soluble products follow groundwater, especially surface waters to ponds and bayous.

Because water that runs through neighborhoods ends up in aquifers, ponds and bayous, they must be protected from excess mineral or organic pollution. Excess organic products in water reduce the dissolved oxygen levels of the water, which ultimately stresses and kills aquatic life.

With so much at risk, we advise following best management practices in dealing with loose landscape foliage.

  1. Never dump clipping or leaves into ditches, storm drains, lakes or bayous.

  2. When fertilizing the lawn, avoid spreading materials near waterways. Leave an untreated strip of seven to 10 feet between the edge of the granule swath and the waterbody. If turf is thin and on steep slopes, allow even more space.

  3. Avoid blowing or spreading fertilizer or leaves and clippings onto walks, drives, roads or any hardscape. The debris generally ends up directly into storm drains and ditches. Instead, blow, sweep or rake this trash back into the lawn or carry it to a compost pile. The lawn will trap, hold and use those nutrients.

  4. Don't over-fertilize your lawn with phosphorus. Mature turf needs only a low to moderate level of phosphorus. High soil phosphorus will promote new weed growth, waste money and threaten the surface waters.

If in doubt about your soil's fertility level, take a routine soil test. The LSU AgCenter Soil Testing & Plant Analysis lab will run one for only $10. Take a representative composite sample to your LSU AgCenter parish office for testing or find a LSU AgCenter soil sample box in your local nursery or hardware store. Results are usually available in a couple of weeks.

Fertilize according to the soil test recommendations for best results and a cleaner environment. Also remember that our lawns are usually a warm-season type grass and will be going dormant in late fall. They need their fertilizer during spring and summer when they are growing.

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