Too much of a good thing?

"Our choices influence our environment."

How you care for your lawn has a small effect on the environment. But combine the tens of thousands of lawns in the Twin Cities area together, and those individual choices add up to a big impact.

Take nitrogen, for example. This element is essential for plant growth. But too much nitrogen actually weakens a lawn, promoting blade growth over root growth. It can wash into lakes and streams, where it promotes algae growth which chokes out fish and other life.

Nitrogen mostly comes from fertilizer, lawn clippings and fallen leaves—things that homeowners control. In 2008, a TCHEP study found that 70% of the nitrogen from fertilizer flowing through our urban landscape comes from just 20% of our houses. Clearly, those homeowners have chosen to care for their lawns in a way that’s different from their neighbors. Maria and her colleagues want to find out why.

Fertilizing the lawn

In 2008, TCHEP studied how nutrients—such as nitrogen from fertilizer—flow through the urban ecosystem. Our previous Scientist on the Spot, Daniel Nidzgorski, worked on that study. (groveb / iStockphoto.com)