County advises residents to use fertilizer with care

Ocean County homeowners are being advised to remember that heavy use of lawn fertilizers will find its way into the county’s waterways, leading to non-source point pollution problems later this summer, a health department spokesman said.

“We live in a water environment here in Ocean County,” said Robert Ingenito, environmental health coordinator. “Overuse of lawn or garden fertilizers can result in excess nutrients being washed into storm drains, streams, creeks or other waterways, ultimately ending up in area ponds, lagoons or wetlands areas, where it can upset the balance of nature.”

Ingenito said the excess fertilizers can build up in the waters of lagoon communities, where slow tidal action can foster the growth of algae blooms during warm summer days. He said for algae to grow, it needs light, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.

“The light comes from sunlight and the carbon from lagoon or pond bottom deposits. Nitrogen can be released from other plant matter or fertilizer. The phosphorus comes directly from fertilizer,” Ingenito said. “Most of the phosphorus comes from fertilized lawns in the form of runoffs after a heavy rain into the lagoons or from street catch basins, which travel through pipes into the lagoons or ponds.”

Ingenito said the warmer summer days ahead can cause the algae to grow to immense size in lagoons, while in ponds, the algae growth can consume large amounts of oxygen in the water, thus creating fish kills.

“Much of the phosphorus in the lagoons could be eliminated if homeowners aerated their lawns prior to applying the fertilizer this spring,” he said. “Let the fertilizer get down to the roots and then water lightly. This will help decrease the chance of nutrients ending up in our waterways or ponds.”

Ingenito said homeowners should avoid fertilizing lawns prior to a forecast for a major spring rainstorm.

“While it may seem that the rain would be beneficial in getting the fertilizer to the grass roots, in reality a driving rain creates too much surface water and the fertilizer quickly runs off into the streets,” he said.

“We all want clean, clear lagoons and ponds as algae-free as possible,” said Freeholder Gerry P. Little, liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health. “By applying fertilizers properly now in springtime, we can help keep our waterways cleaner and safer for enjoyment all season long.”