A taste of spring weather has arrived, and people will soon be filling the home improvement stores and getting ready for outdoor projects. If you live on the water or near a storm drain, it’s worth considering buffer zones and best management practices for fertilizing and lawn maintenance.
A waterfront buffer zone is an area the length of one’s property line, typically running about 10 feet (although it can be wider) from the edge of a shoreline (or even a storm drain) into the yard. In this area, the homeowner allows native vegetation to grow along the water and uses low-maintenance plants within the buffer. In this zone, no fertilizers or pesticides are used. Some homeowners will build a small berm to divide the area of maintained lawn (uphill) from the downhill waterfront side. This berm may be composed of a mulched area with shrubbery to catch and filter runoff from the more highly maintained lawn. This combination of actions helps treat potentially polluted stormwater runoff before it reaches the water, and keeps homeowners from using chemicals close to the water. It is often quite difficult to grow turf next to the water, anyway, and this takes the pressure off of someone trying to grow the perfect lawn down to the water’s edge. The buffer zones are often quite attractive and can be an excellent transition between managed turf and the waterfront.
Erosion prevention is crucial along waterways, as well. An open, non-vegetated lot can contribute a significant amount of sediment to a storm drain, stormwater pond, or natural body of water. Whether grass, trees, or bushes, any kind of vegetation is preferable to soil washing out of a yard and into the water. Sediment is a problem because it causes water clarity to drop, which can prevent seagrasses from getting the sunlight they need. Once settled, underwater sediment can form a stifling layer that chokes out small insects and invertebrates, which live in the soil and form the basis of the aquatic food chain. With no fish food available, fish may die or move out of an area. The most dramatic examples of this can often be found at dirt roads that cross over creeks. If not managed properly, the clay on these roads can nearly bury a small stream.
Other lawn care techniques for protecting the waterfront and preventing stormwater pollution include not mowing along the water, using a deflector shield and staying 3’-10’ away from the water’s edge when fertilizing, and not allowing grass clippings to blow into storm drains. Large amounts of decaying grass in a waterway can use up available oxygen, endangering aquatic organisms. When applying granular fertilizer, be sure to sweep up any spills on concrete so it doesn’t run into a storm drain. When cutting grass, mow at the highest height recommended for your turf to encourage deep rooting and stress tolerance. Healthy turf is better able to withstand drought, pests, and choke out weeds, reducing the frequency of pesticide and water application.