Editor's Note: "Looking at the Mirror" is a monthly column sponsored by the Mirror Lake Watershed Association. The Lake Placid News is proud to run it as part of our ongoing coverage on the environment.
It is that time of year again, when we all start tending to our yards and gardens. As part of Mirror Lake's watershed area, we all need to choose carefully how we enrich our soil with nutrients and which type of fertilizer we use to boost the color and vigor of our plants.
There are several safe and alternative practices that you can implement in your own back yard, that will help protect our local ecosystem and beautify Lake Placid.
Chemicals in fertilizer, specifically phosphorus, can have staggeringly negative effects on the natural balance of our lake.
Phosphorus in runoff can cause algal blooms, which in turn, make the lake unpleasant to swim in, gum up docks, boats and other crafts, as well as harm the fish and other organisms living in the lake. The health of Mirror Lake is in our hands and we can all help a little to make a big difference.
Currently, laws help restrict the overuse of phosphorous, and our group effort will make these laws successful. New York state restricted phosphorous fertilizer for use on lawns in January 2012. This ban came into effect with the Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law.
According to the DEC website, the law mandates:
"No person shall apply or authorize any person by way of service contract or other arrangement to apply in this state any phosphorus fertilizer on lawn or non-agricultural turf, except when:
-A soil test indicates that additional phosphorus is needed for growth of that lawn or non-agricultural turf; or
-The phosphorus fertilizer is used for newly established lawn or non-agricultural turf during the first growing season."
Other parts of the law ban the use of fertilizer within 20 feet of a water body or on paved surfaces. You can, however, fertilize within that range if there is an established, continuous, 10-foot vegetative buffer between the water body and the fertilized space.
The Mirror Lake Watershed Association reminds us that while planting shrubs along the lake, do not use Miracle-Gro or other lake-enriching chemicals. It is also prohibited to fertilize between the months of Dec. 1 and April 1. This is prevents the snowmelt from picking up your fertilizer in runoff water, and carrying it down to the lake.
Selecting safe fertilizer
According to the DEC, fertilizer containing less than 0.67 percent phosphorous is still legal to use. If the middle number is higher than 0.67, the fertilizer may only be used on newly established lawns or were soil tests prove a phosphorous deficiency.
To find the right fertilizer for your lawn and garden, look on the bottom of the bag for the fertilizer label. There will be three numbers listed, with dashes in between.
For example a fertilizer with 10-5-15 on its label has a content of 10 percent nitrogen, 5 percent phosphorus oxide and 10 percent potassium oxide. These numbers represent percentages of the nutrients present in the fertilizer blend by weight. The middle number is the phosphorous content.
Retailers are required to provide signage for their fertilizers and keep them in segregated groupings of non-phosphorous and phosphorous-containing fertilizers.
The law does not restrict phosphorous fertilizer for application on new lawn installations, or if a soil test shows a phosphorous deficiency. You can get your soil tested by a reputable laboratory for fairly cheap, and it is much more accurate than an at-home test kit. You can find a laboratory through the local Cornell University Cooperative Extension office. If you have tested your soil and your results show a deficiency, look for low phosphorous fertilizer.
You can always opt for not using fertilizer at all. There are many ways to give back to your soil without adding harsh chemicals. There is really no need to add any chemicals to ones property around Mirror Lake.
Adding a bit of lime to the soil, if tests show it too acidic is great way to restore balance. You can use your own compost, or get manure from a local farm. Earthworms also help the quality of your soil. Through their natural processes, they turn their body's weight into nutrient rich castings, or droppings, every day.
A mulching mower is also a great way to recycle nutrients back into the soil.
This spring, and into the summer, use common sense to take care of your soil and plants. Keep our lake in mind, and enjoy the tranquility of clean and clear water while you swim boat, fish, and play. Not only is it great for our local economy, but the fish will thank you too.
For more information about the Mirror Lake Watershed Association, please join us at our meetings on the second Monday of each month. The meetings start at 5 p.m. in the Lake Placid Beach House on Parkside Drive. You can also find us online at: www.mirrorlake.net.
Amy Ignatuk grew up in Upper Jay and graduated from the Keene Central School. She has a background in environmental studies, held two internships with The Nature Conservancy and has always had a love for nature.