Lawn Care

Table of Contents

Watershed Partners
Lawn Care
Fertilize Fairly
Mow Masterfully
Watch Watering
For More Information

Watershed Partners

The Macatawa Watershed Project launched its Seal of Approval program in 2006. The program encourages local businesses and others in the watershed to use lawn care and landscaping best management practices to protect our environment. In 2018, the program was re-branded to “Watershed Partners.” This designation more accurately reflects the nature of the program.

Program members include lawn care and landscaping professionals. Businesses that applied for the program and met the criteria received a special “seal” logo that they can display and use on company materials. This designation tells the consumer that the company has agreed to and is following practices to protect Lake Macatawa’s water quality. For a list of companies involved, click to view the 2018 Watershed Partners list.

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Lawn Care

We all want our lawns to be green and healthy. However, our lawn care practices can have a direct impact on our water quality. Rain washes away fertilizer and grass clippings left on pavement and carries them to lakes and streams. Fertilizer and grass clippings that end up in the lake can cause excess aquatic weed and algae growth, making it harder to swim, boat and fish. Follow these simple tips to protect water quality while growing a healthy, green lawn:

  • Fertilize Fairly
  • Mow Masterfully
  • Watch Watering

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Fertilize Fairly

Soil Testing

SoilTest1The first step to fertilizing without impacting water quality is to find out which nutrients and how much your lawn needs. Soil testing takes the guesswork out of fertilizer use, saving you time and money, and allowing you to feed your lawn fairly. Excess fertilizer not taken up by plants is lost to the environment. Plus too much fertilizer can actually be harmful to your lawn. Soil test kits are available for a fee at the Ottawa County Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) office at (616) 994-4580. You can also order an MSUE soil test kit online. MSUE staff will mail or email the results to you. The website includes instructions for how to take a soil sample.

Choose Wisely

Once you determine if you need to purchase fertilizer, look for bags with no phosphorus for established lawns.

Know the Numbers

A series of three important numbers is displayed on fertilizer bags:

  1. The first number tells how much nitrogen (N) is in the fertilizer. Nitrogen helps top growth. It makes the grass to grow green and lush. To get the most for your money and your fertilizer, purchase mixtures with slow-release nitrogen for a steady, controlled feeding. In shady areas, reduce recommended nitrogen by 25 percent.
  2. The second number tells how much phosphorus (P) is in the fertilizer. Phosphorus stimulates roots and seedling development, so it is most needed when establishing a new lawn. The majority of soil in the Macatawa Watershed area is already phosphorous-rich and may not need additional phosphorus.
  3. The third number tells how much potassium (K) is in the fertilizer. Potassium is an essential nutrient that aids in many plant functions, including photosynthesis, starch and protein development, enzyme reactions, and water movement. Lawns deficient in potassium tend to more susceptible to disease and less tolerant of environmental stress.

Follow directions

Always follow the directions to make sure you are applying fertilizer at the correct time and at the correct rate. Remember that too much fertilizer is not a good thing. A plant will only use as much as it needs when it needs it and too much may actually harm the plant. The rest is lost to the environment, much of it carried away by rain to our lakes and rivers where it can have negative water quality impacts.

  1. Nitrogen: Nitrogen not used by plants is very mobile in the environment. It can be converted into ammonia gas and lost to the air or it can be converted to nitrate which is mobile in the soil and can contaminate groundwater. Nitrate contaminated groundwater is known to cause methemoglobinemia (sometimes known as blue baby syndrome), a blood disorder that affects the transport of oxygen. Too much nitrogen on your lawn can lead to increased disease problems and reduced ability to handle temperature extremes.
  2. Phosphorus: Unlike nitrogen, phosphorus not used by plants tends to stick to the soil and is relatively immobile (which is why soil with a history of fertilizer application tends to be high in phosphorus). The phosphorus stuck to soil cannot be used by plants until it is released by microorganisms. Once it is released as phosphate, it can be mobile in water and leave in surface runoff or in drainage tiles. Phosphate in our surface water feeds algae and other undesirable plants in our lakes and streams. Too much phosphorus on your lawn can lead to zinc and iron deficiencies, which result in off-color, unhealthy plants.
  3. Potassium: Potassium is similar to phosphorus in that it sticks to soil particles, especially clay. While it is true that anything in an excessive amount is harmful, we are generally not concerned about potassium as a water quality pollutant. Too much potassium can harm plants by inhibiting seedling growth and limiting their ability to take up other nutrients.

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Mow Masterfully

mowing the lawnMastering proper mowing techniques will encourage your lawn to make its own food, control lawn pests like crabgrass and insects, and reduce the number of times you have to mow. Keep your grass at least three inches high to promote healthier roots and a healthier lawn. Cutting the grass too short will invite weeds to invade. Taller grass gets more sun and is better able to make its own food (needing less fertilizer).

Return your clippings to the lawn as mulch. Nutrients will be released and returned to the soil as the clippings decay. However,  make sure that clippings stay on the lawn and don’t end up on the pavement where rain can wash them away into storm drains and to our lakes and streams.

Mowing frequency rule of thumb: Mow twice a week in the spring, every two weeks in the summer and once a week in the fall.

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Watch Watering

wateringAccording to Michigan State University Extension, lawns generally require about 1 inch of water per week, applied in small amounts throughout the week. Light, frequent watering supports healthy grass and resists disease and pests. The best schedule for watering is 15 – 20 minutes per day between noon and 4:00 p.m. when the grass is under the most stress. If daily watering is not practical for you, then try 30 – 40 minutes every other day. For best results, combine light, frequent watering with grass mulching and slow-release fertilizer applications. Avoid overhead sprinklers around trees and shrubs. Consistently wet leaves are more susceptible to diseases including fungi and mildews.

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For more information:

Michigan State University – Home Lawns

Michigan Water Stewardship Program – Lots of great resources for residents, youth and educators.

EPA’s WaterSense – Tips for Watering Wisely

Cornell Cooperative Extension Cayuga County – Green Thumbs for Blue Water, Landscaping for Healthy Streams and Lakes

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