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Watershed Management: Education

Low/No Phosphorus Fertilizer

What Can I Do to Help?

Lake-Friendly Fertilizers & Their Applications

Most soil in our area already carries enough phosphorus to support a healthy lawn. For a small price, homeowners can request a soil test to see if their lawns need additional phosphorus.

If additional phosphorus isn't needed, homeowners can buy a no/low phosphorus fertilizer through a local garden, farm, or hardware store or work through a lawn service that provides no/low phosphorus fertilizer (see vendor list).

Fertilizer bags carry numbers giving the proportion of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the mix. For example, a 22-3-14 mixture has 22 percent nitrogen, 3 percent phosphorus, and 14 percent potassium. How can you tell which fertilizer to use? The middle number on the bag should be less than 2 or 3.

When applying fertilizer, a three foot buffer area should always be left around lakes and connecting waterways to ensure fertilizer does not come into direct contact with the water.

Remember to Sweep it. Fertilizer left on the pavement, is a pollutant that washes into storm drains, lakes and streams. Do it yourself or ask your lawn care service to sweep fertilizer over spray onto your lawn. After all, if the fertilizer isn't on your yard, it's money down the drain!

Also, use slow-release fertilizer. This type releases small amounts of nutrients over time to ensure that all are absorbed properly and utilized by the plants. Liquid fertilizer quickly infiltrates the surface and groundwater supplies as runoff when lawns and gardens are irrigated, or during a rainstorm.

Slow release fertilizers can generally be applied only once during a growing season. No reapplication is necessary, especially when you incorporate native vegetation into your landscape.

Am I Part of the Problem?

If you reside in the Holmes Lake watershed area and fertilize your established lawn with anything other than a no/low phosphorus fertilizer, there is a good chance you're contributing to the problem. The people living in this area have a special opportunity to help protect the health of Holmes Lake. Check below to see if you live in the Holmes Lake watershed (in gray):

Note: Even if you don't live in the Holmes Lake Watershed, no/low phosphorus is still a great idea for preserving our lakes and waterways!

How Can I Test My Lawn?

Soil testing kits are easy to use and available at most lawn and garden centers for a small cost of $10-15. These kits can identify nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and pH levels.

Death of A Lake (Eutrophication)

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are essential nutrients needed for plant growth. They can be found in many things such as fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste and detergents. However, excess nutrients are a problem. Among these nutrients, phosphorus is the most damage-causing element in Lincoln-area lakes and waterways. Phosphorus within the water system causes dangerous algae blooms, excessive aquatic growth and a decrease in dissolved oxygen availability for aquatic life. These plants and the water quality problems that occur when they decompose, can kill fish and other organisms. Also, these toxic lake conditions limit human use and enjoyment of the lake. This process is known as eutrophication.

Fertilizers high in phosphorus are frequently used in home lawn care. When applied to your lawn, fertilizer can easily spill onto driveways and sidewalks. It can be washed into storm drains and flow over surfaces during a rainstorm or snow melt and settle into waterways and lakes. This excess phosphorus greatly speeds up the eutrophication process, and if not controlled, can cause a lake to 'age' more rapidly.

For more information on lake ecology, please contact:
Tadd Barrow
School of Natural Resources
516 Hardin Hall
3310 Holdrege Street
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska 68583-0995
Phone 402-472-7783
Or visit: Remote Site

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension with the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers publications on a wide range of topics written by specialists and educators, please visit:

The listing of services or products on this brochure does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by the City of Lincoln

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Watershed Management: Education