Spring is here and we are all looking forward to nature greening up around us. Many also look forward to getting back to the routine of maintaining a nice, lush, green lawn for our family to enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with having a nice lawn (it is a fascinating obsession – check out American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn by Ted Steinberg). However, there are some good practices to follow to ensure that unintentional harm does not come to our lakes and streams.
Too much fertilizer can be bad for both water quality and your lawn. Too much can damage your grass due to salt build up in the soil (yes, there is salt in fertilizer!). Rain can also wash away excess fertilizer not used by the grass. Rain delivers it to storm drains that end up in streams and lakes. Fertilizer in the water can cause nuisance plant growth, like algae. Soil test, don’t guess, before you apply fertilizer, and make sure that you clean up any spillage on paved surfaces before rain washes it away.
Proper mowing techniques will help your lawn make its own food, control pests like crabgrass and insects, and reduce the frequency of mowing. Keep your grass at least three inches tall to promote healthy roots and a healthy 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. The rule of thumb is to mow twice a week in the spring, every two weeks in the summer and once a week in the fall. Make sure to leave the grass clippings on the lawn (not on the pavement where they can wash down the storm drain and into streams and lakes!).
Michigan State University Extension research found that 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. Try 30-40 minutes every other day if daily watering is not practical for you. Do not over water to the point where water runs off the grass and into the storm drain since it can carry fertilizer and grass clippings with it. For best results, combine light, frequent watering with grass mulching and slow-release fertilizer applications.
If you would rather not partake in the joy of lawn care yourself, considering hiring a company that is certified in the Macatawa Watershed Seal of Approval Program. See story below.
The program is aimed at encouraging local businesses and stakeholders in the watershed to use best management practices to protect our environment. Businesses that applied for the program and met the criteria received a special “seal” logo that they can display at their place of business and on their company materials. This designation indicates to the consumer that the company has agreed to and is following a number of best management practices to protect Lake Macatawa’s water quality. For a list of companies involved, click to view the 2016 Seal of Approval list.
Plans for the 2016 Macatawa Water Festival are well under way! The MACC and the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway will once again partner to hold the festival this year on Saturday, July 9, 9:30am-noon, at Windmill Island Gardens. The set up will be slightly different than last year with all activities taking place on the island. Back this year will be the trout fishing pond, the Gabagouache voyageur canoe and kayaking. Many of the same exhibitors and activities will also be returning, plus some new ones. We’re all excited for the 2016 event and hope that you will be able to join us! More information will be posted to the MACC’s website and Facebook page as it becomes available.
You may have heard the term “native plants” before and that they are a good addition to your home garden, but what is it that makes them so special?
What is a native plant?
A native plant is a species of plant that is indigenous to a specific geographic region. They are well adapted to living in the soils and climate found in that region. Indigenous wildlife depend on native plants for food and shelter. Native plants are unique in that they possess some special qualities that your non-native plants may not.
Why are they important?
Many prairie species tend to have extremely deep roots so that the plant can take up water even during periods of drought. Besides water uptake, these roots also act as pathways when it rains to help direct water underground. This helps refill aquifers and reduces stormwater runoff to nearby steams where erosion can occur during heavy rain storms. The deep roots of native plants also help to stabilize stream banks by holding the soil in place, something that is very important in urban “flashy” systems where water levels can rise very quickly and powerfully within streams and rivers.
Native plants are great at attracting and providing habitat to native wildlife and insects. According to the Native Plant Society in Northeastern Ohio, “Native organisms including plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects create an intricate web of life. This is a wonderful natural orchestration with each species’ life cycle highly dependent on the others.” If one species is removed from an ecosystem, the others that are dependent upon it may also suffer losses.
Many of our local pollinator species, such as bees and butterflies, are responsible for successful food production and greatly benefit from having local plant species nearby. According to Michigan State University, “The main insect pollinators, by far, are bees, and while European honey bees are the best known and widely managed pollinators, there are also hundreds of other species of bees, mostly solitary ground nesting species, that contribute some level of pollination services to crops and are very important in natural plant communities.” These bees would not survive without the pollen and nectar provided throughout the growing season by native plants.
How do I use native plants in my home landscape?
If you are ready to add native plants to your landscape, the best first step is to plan. Learn more about individual species, think about where you want to plant and how big your garden will be, and find out who sells the plants you want. Visit the MACC’s website and search for “Natural Landscaping” to find resources to help you get started. MACC staff can also help guide your native landscape planning.
Additional resources about Michigan native plants
¨ Michigan Conservation Districts: www.macd.org
¨ Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes: www.wildones.org
¨ Wildflower Association of Michigan: www.wildflowersmich.org/
¨ Michigan State University Native Plants and Ecosystem Services: nativeplants.msu.edu/
By Aaron Spicer, MACC Agricultural Technician
As this year’s long, slushy winter comes to a close, most of us are anxiously awaiting spring and everything that comes with it. Sunshine, warm weather and green grass will be a welcome break for everyone who made it through this winter’s interesting weather. Farmers know that spring means the busy planting season has arrived. There are things to be done now before the ground thaws and dries out to save time and headache when fields are ready for planting. Here is a basic and highly realistic breakdown of what planting season feels like to a farmer.
With months of planning and proper equipment maintenance, spring planting doesn’t have to be a headache. However it is always important to remember that planning needs to happen and that plans change as often as the weather. Happy planting, everyone!
By Dan Callam, Greenway Manager, Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway
Project Clarity’s annual report on the state of Lake Macatawa is now available. Grand Valley State University’s Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) has completed their annual Lake Macatawa Water Quality Dashboard report, a summary of their annual findings compared with historical data. While it indicates lake water quality improved in 2015 from 2014, it also notes that even with the improvement, the condition of the lake is still undesirable.
The data reflect the average annual levels of three water quality indicators key to Lake Macatawa – the nutrient phosphorus, chlorophyll a and water clarity. These data provide indications of how much excess sediment, nutrients, and algae are present in Lake Macatawa. While there are many factors that contribute to the state of the lake, these three indicators provide good context for how healthy Lake Macatawa is compared to other water bodies and historic conditions.
While the data in the report show that conditions have improved over the past couple of years, conditions are still considered “undesirable.” In addition to the data collected over the past three years by AWRI, conditions have been compared to other data collected by the EPA and DEQ over the past five decades. It is also important to note that conditions tend to vary from year to year within the lake. Factors such as precipitation and lake levels can lead to significant changes in water quality. While we hope that the long term trend continues to show conditions in Lake Macatawa improving, there may continue to be short-term volatility. As noted by AWRI Director Al Steinman, “the improved water quality in 2015 is encouraging, but we need to be careful not to make too much of this one-year change for two reasons. First, there is natural variability in all ecological systems—we need multiple years of improved water quality before we can state with any certainty there is a trend; and second, even with the improved conditions, the water quality in the lake is still severely impaired. The lake has been abused for many decades, and it will take years of concerted efforts before we can expect sustained improvement in Lake Macatawa’s ecological health”.
Project Clarity will continue to monitor conditions in Lake Macatawa and throughout the Macatawa Watershed over the coming years. It is important to monitor the health of the lake, in addition to evaluating the impact of practices implemented throughout the Holland/Zeeland community designed to improve water quality. AWRI will continue to lead Project Clarity’s monitoring efforts, with assistance from the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway, the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, and Hope College.
The Lake Macatawa Dashboard Report, along with the full 2015 Project Clarity Monitoring Report are available online at: www.macatawaclarity.org/monitoring and www.the-macc.org/watershed/water-quality/
For more information about Project Clarity visit www.macatawaclarity.org
Macatawa Watershed Project staff spent quite a bit of time this winter writing and submitting grant proposals to fund various projects. At this point, all applications are still pending, but we should hear about them within the next couple months. Applications include:
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Agricultural Watershed Management – The MACC’s Agricultural Technician was able to secure commitments from 15 farmers to install best management practices to reduce sediment and phosphorus loads to Lake Macatawa. Project Clarity also pledged financial support for this proposal.
EPA Urban Waters Small Grant Program – The MACC proposed to develop a green infrastructure vision for the Macatawa Watershed. The funding will develop a map of green infrastructure suitability and support our staff working with the residents of Holland Heights to refine the map for their neighborhood.
MiCorps River Cleanup Program – This grant will support the purchase of supplies and volunteer gifts for the 2016 fall river cleanup. The fall cleanup is scheduled for September 24, 1-4pm, and will take place whether or not we receive the grant. Mark your calendars now and plan to attend!
MiCorps Road/Stream Crossing Inventory Program – This grant will allow us to purchase equipment necessary to start a volunteer road/stream crossing inventory program in the watershed. This is the same funding source that helped the MACC start a volunteer program to monitor aquatic insects, which occurs twice a year (see calendar for spring date).