Roland Wolfgang Oehme Landscape Architecture

Sustainable and Organic Garden Design Baltimore Maryland, Washington DC & NYC

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How to Fertilize Sensibly

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Fertilizing with harmful, petroleum based fertilizers can wreak havoc on our environment. These unnatural fertilizers are typically applied excessively and never fully break down where they are applied. Instead, they wash downstream where they upset the nutrient balance. Petroleum fertilizers contain high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous, which leach out of the soil, flows downstream, and find their way into rivers, bays, and oceans. Once there, they will upset the nutrient balance often seen in algae blooms, which make the water cloudy, remove oxygen from the water, and harm fish and other aquatic life. (1) This is not a sustainable system.

We know the solutions to prevent fertilizers from harming our environment. The simplest step is to simply stop using fertilizers. Using fertilizers in gardens is not really necessary and provides minimal short terms benefits at best. If you feel that you still need to use a fertilizer then the next best option is to use only an organic fertilizer that is derived from naturally occurring substances, like dung, agricultural waste, seaweeds, rocks, and minerals. Even when using organic fertilizers one must be careful to not use excessive amounts, abstain from high nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizers, and to choose the correct fertilizer for the site. For instance, chicken manure is from a natural source but it is high in nitrogen and phosphorus so it would never be a wise choice. Better choices of fertilizers include cottonseed meal, kelp, greensand, and rock dust. Furthermore, choosing a fertilizer that is certified organic will ensure that it contains natural substances.

By altering one’s use of fertilizers one can ensure a cleaner and safer environment for us all.

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