Gardening

We all live downstream

February 3, 2011 

Stormwater runoff is a hot issue. For many years, construction sites have included detention basins. These “dry ponds” are designed to capture water that runs off the roofs of buildings, across parking lots, or closely mowed lawns and slowly release it into the drainage system. But if you’ve ever been in Five Points in Columbia or anywhere South of Broad in Charleston during a thunder shower, you know what happens when the stormwater system gets overloaded. Now cities and counties are required to test this water and report on what they find. Yuck-o-la, all over!

Besides possibly ruining those new suede shoes, stormwater picks up all sorts of debris. Fertilizer, soil, and pesticides, when in the wrong place, become pollutants. Almost all of us spend money, and a fair amount at that, for chemicals designed to make our yards and gardens more productive and less weedy. Well-meaning people far too often put out products that add to stormwater pollution. Weed and feed formulas are prime examples.

We’ve had some blessedly warmer days and the weeds that germinated back in October – henbit, mustard, and chickweed to name a few — are getting big. They look mighty green against that brown centipede lawn. Big box stores are promoting weed and feed products that promise a lush, weed-free lawn — even though those formulas are designed for northern, cool-season grasses.

In the South, informed lawn lovers apply pre-emergent herbicides only, no fertilizer, when the redbuds and forsythia are in full bloom. They see good results in August when the summer weeds are reaching full glory in the yard next door. But many lawn lovers see the winter weeds growing now and think those combination products will zap those intruders and fertilize their lawns. Sadly, pre-emergent herbicides have no effect what so ever against weeds that are up and growing. And the expensive fertilizer in that combo will simply wash away in stormwater as the roots of dormant warm-season grasses can’t absorb those nutrients.

How about doing our beautiful streams, rivers and lakes a favor? Clemson may be in the far upper corner of the state but fine researchers there are concerned about what is flowing down stream to us flatlanders. The HGIC website (www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic) has maintenance calendar factsheets for any kind of grass you’d care to grow. Each gives you a schedule of when to fertilize, when to apply herbicides, and when to look for insects and diseases. A constant across the spectrum of grass varieties is the recommendation to apply no fertilizer before April 15 or after the end of August. You can call (888) 656-9988 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, and ask specific questions.

Carolina Clear is another Clemson-supported program that gives citizens and decision-makers information needed to keep our waters clean and healthy for fishing, swimming, canoeing or just lounging in an inner tube (some of us can even float without extra buoyancy devices). Their site has information on constructing rain barrels and rain gardens, how to use leaves and grass clippings as organic fertilizer, and even the importance of trailing behind Fido with a plastic bag. Visit www.clemson.edu/public/carolinaclear and help ensure that the only pollution at the lake this summer is from plump ladies from the country floating in their (thank the Lord) one-piece bathing suits.

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