the austin texas skyline with lady bird lake in the foreground

Austin’s Toxic Algae is Back Again, and Synthetic Fertilizers Aren’t Helping

We’re all used to the routine by now: As summer swelters on, huge green rafts of algae pop up all over Austin’s signature waterways. They grow and multiply until soon, the city makes an announcement: Tests have shown this blue green algae (or cyanobacteria) is toxic, and we all need to steer clear.

It’s happened each year since 2019, when several dog deaths triggered closer investigation.

To its credit, the city has since taken action to not only study the blooms, but cut them down to size. Over five years, $300,000 of taxpayer money will fund a chemical treatment applied to waters from Lake Austin to Red Bud Isle and beyond.

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Its objective: Cut off algal blooms’ supply of phosphorus, and other nutrients the plants thrive on.

“Nutrients plants thrive on” — sound familiar?

It sure does to Maas Verde. Phosphorus is a major ingredient in virtually every synthetic fertilizer available.

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City officials have linked the algae’s recent proliferation in Lady Bird Lake to zebra mussels and climate change. But one way we can take matters into our own hands is right outside our front door.

Native and adapted plants don’t need synthetic fertilizers to live like many non-natives and turfgrasses do. And non-erosive landscapes designed around Central Texas natives like Turks cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus), and woodland sedge (Carex blanda) can root deeply to retain soil and control sedimentation.

flame acanthus (left) and Eastern sedge (right)
Plantings of flame acanthus (A. quadrifidus) and woodland sedge (C. blanda). Photo: Maas Verde

In any landscape, plants are the first line of defense against soil erosion and water runoff. In any heavy rain (or artificial drainage event such as residential irrigation), roots in the soil slow down and capture water on its way downhill toward the water table.

a graphic showing the benefits of native plant communities versus conventional turfgrass lawns
Illustration: National Wildlife Federation

For a more drought-resistant landscape that helps keep Austin’s water healthy, contact Maas Verde today.

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