Kathleen Cue, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator in Dodge County 

How The Misuse of Lawn Fertilizer Affects Water Quality

 As I walk through the neighborhood close to my office, I see white granules that have accumulated along the street’s gutter. Up ahead, there is a lawn care company busily at work, making its way down the block from client to client. How does the lawn fertilizer end up in the street? It could be the spreader the applicator is using, or it could be the worker using the leaf blower, pushing granules onto the street as he clears off the sidewalk. Upon questioning them, the lawn care people are aware the fertilizer in the street is from their work, but they confess to being unaware of the harm this poses to water quality and aquatic life.

 If you’re shrugging your shoulders at this point and asking, “What’s a few fertilizer pellets in the street really going to harm?” let me draw a connection for you.

Fertilizers washed into storm sewers end up in creeks, streams, ponds, and lakes. This nutrient enrichment promotes algal growth, some of it highly toxic to wildlife and pets that drink from surface water. Abundant algae growth leads to eutrophication, a condition that depletes water of oxygen and leads to fish kills. Water with high nutrient loads smell bad, reducing recreational value for fishing, boating, and swimming.

 The N-P-K ratio found on the fertilizer bag is the percent by weight it contains of nitrogen, phosphorus (as phosphate), and potassium (as potash). Of these, nitrogen and phosphorus are the biggest problems in lakes and streams. Best case scenario is that the fertilizer applications are made to growing turf roots to take up fertilizer nutrients. Things that get in the way of root uptake are drought stress, plant dormancy, erosion, and frozen soil. Anytime fertilizer isn’t in plants, then conditions for nutrient movement into lakes and streams becomes a probability. 

 Fertilizers left on hard surfaces are easy to spot and the most easily corrected.  Sweeping or blowing fertilizer and turf clippings, which are also a source of nutrients, from paved surfaces onto lawns is a simple solution.  Whether you do your own or hire a lawn care company, the final step before putting away/ loading the lawn equipment is to clear paved surfaces of any fertilizers, pesticides, and lawn clippings, returning these materials to the lawn where they’ll do the most good.

 Water quantity is uppermost on many peoples’ mind these days as the drought deepens, making it paramount that we take care of the water we have.  Water quality affects us all.   Source: Purdue Extension   Print Version

Sign Up for the Master Gardener Volunteer Program 

Many Nebraska Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (NEMGV) are winding up their projects for the 2022 gardening season.  The Master Gardeners who manage the Growing Together Nebraska gardens have donated 536 pounds of produce to food pantries in Washington County and 2858 pounds in Dodge County, boosting access to fresh food for the food insecure. Master Gardeners work in after-school garden programs, teach others about good gardening practices through the horticulture helpline, and promote healthy pollinator habitats through demonstration gardens.  

NEMGVs are taught the newest University-led education one can receive.  So, are Master Gardeners just about pulling weeds and making things pretty?  Absolutely not! Master Gardeners are first and foremost teachers, reaching people where they are to improve the health, well-being, and quality of life for Nebraskans. 

Extension Master Gardeners have a long history of helping people and communities in Nebraska. Starting in 1976, volunteers have been educated in a wide range of all things garden, extending from horticultural insects to soils to plant diseases.  Education is virtual, allowing Master Gardeners access to quality programs from their home computer, bridging remote locations and long distances.  

Who are Nebraska Extension Master Gardeners? They are your neighbors...community members...they are the new people in town, or they have grown up here... they are young, old, and every age in between...they have lots of gardening experience or very little.  No matter the differences of how, where, and why people are called to the Master Gardener Volunteer program, there is one common thread—a love for gardening that spills over into sharing with others.  

 If you’d like to make a difference in your community or you have a love of gardening you’d like to share with others, then please consider attending an informational meeting for the 2023 NEMGV program.

November 15, 5:30 pm, Dodge County Extension Office, 1206 W. 23rd St., Fremont NE     Print version

Fall’s Insect Invasion 

As nights cool, it’s not unusual to see an increase in the number of insects and spiders (collectively known as arthropods) inside the home. On average, homes have 200+ species of arthropods living there.  Keep in mind this isn’t a total of 200 insects and spiders, but instead of 200 species, with multiples of each not being at all unusual. There are reasons why arthropods make their way indoors.  Some, like crickets and millipedes, are seeking warmth, with heated homes offering a reprieve from cool temperatures. Other arthropods are predators, like ground beetles and spiders, following the prey indoors. 

What can be done to minimize the number of arthropods found indoors?  First and foremost, seal all entry points. The smallest crack or opening is an easy access point for insects, wolf spiders, millipedes, centipedes, and leaf-footed bugs.  Close openings with a silicone-based caulk as this shrinks less than latex types do.  Next, look at the lighting over the front, side, back, and garage doors. Use yellow-colored lights or warm LED bulbs to discourage insects congregating around outdoor lights and allowing easy access every time a door opens.  

Adopt a cleaning strategy to discourage hiding places and food sources.  Clear away fallen leaves around the foundation and indoors frequently sweep to remove bits of food found on floors. A final strategy is to use boxed sticky traps (found in hardware stores) inside the home to catch these occasional invaders and monitor what’s found inside the home. 

The Asian lady beetle, dermestid beetles, and boxelder bugs like to overwinter beneath a structure’s siding. These insects are not readily found indoors until spring, when warmer weather induces activity that results in them moving through wall voids to the inside of the home. These insects are best cleaned up with the aid of a vacuum cleaner. If an insecticide is used, it should be applied in September with a perimeter spray outside of the home to discourage access to the home’s siding.  

Remember that most of the arthropods we find indoors come from outside. Considered nuisance pests, most of these arthropods cause no harm to structures or people.   Print Version

Collecting and Starting Seeds from Trees and Shrubs

Now is a great time to collect seeds from trees and shrubs to start your own and add diversity to your landscape.  If you think starting trees from seeds is a silly way to get trees into your landscape, think again.  I appreciate the story Justin Evertson of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum likes to share about his 15-foot-tall bur oak. Justin started the tree from an acorn he planted just ten years ago. The tree was quick to establish and grow, disavowing oaks as slow-growing trees. 

A walk through your neighbor’s yard (with their permission of course) is a simple way to collect seeds. Choose seeds with an unblemished seed coat and discard seeds that have tiny holes as this indicates insect feeding.  Be sure to mark the seeds so you know what’s what. Next, you can get the seed scarification and stratification process started. 

Scarification, Stratification
All seeds will have different scarification and stratification requirements before germination can take place. Textbooks and online resources provide a lot of information for proper techniques to meet a seed’s requirements for germination. These processes are nature’s way of delaying germination until conditions are met and increases likelihood seedlings survive. 

Scarification is the softening of the hard seed coat. Nicking, chipping, or sanding the seed coat are just a few of the ways that allows water to soak through the seed coat to the embryo inside, speeding germination. 

Stratification is the cold and moist period that seeds must go through to overwinter and successfully germinate when conditions are ideal. A seed from a plant in the tropics often has no stratification requirement but it’s not in a seed’s best interest to germinate in December in this region, so winter hardy plants have developed overwintering strategies to help seeds germinate when the time is ideal for growth and development.  People sometimes think putting seeds into the freezer is good enough to simulate stratification, but this is simply not the case. It’s the cold AND moist conditions seeds are exposed to that stimulate germination come spring. Stratification data is listed in the number of days to months necessary to speed germination. Take, for instance, the shagbark hickory. Seeds will need 3-5 months of cold stratification before they will germinate.

 Scarification and Stratification Simplified  
Winter itself provides the best scarification and stratification for seeds, with the freeze-thaw cycle helping to loosen seed coats so seeds can imbibe water in spring.  Be sure to mark the spot in the garden so you can identify trees and shrubs once they’ve germinated.  Keeping away squirrels and voles who’ll eat the seeds is a good idea. A layer of hardware cloth or fencing with small openings can be place above and below seeds to thwart digging.   Once seeds have germinated, they can be carefully dug and moved to their permanent home.  Print Version

The Nebraska Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program 

 Those interested in joining the 2022 Nebraska Extension Master Gardener Internship Program can attend an informational meeting on January 4th, 2022, 5:30 p.m., at the Dodge County Extension Office, 1206 West 23rd Street, Fremont, Nebraska. (A zoom link can be provided if attending in person is not possible.) Would-be applicants will learn about the volunteer requirements, the application and interview process, as well as the slate of classes. Extensive gardening experience is not a prerequisite for joining the program.  Good communication skills, the ability to volunteer, and an interest in learning are traits Nebraska Extension is looking for. Attendance of the informational meeting is a requirement for those who’d like to apply, with applications made available at the meeting. Registration in advance is not required. If you have questions, please contact me, Kathleen Cue, at kcue2@unl.edu or 402.727.2775. 
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Find more timely horticulture articles by Kathleen at: https://extension.unl.edu/statewide/dakota/kathleens-notes/