Green Lawn Care
Maintaining Healthy Lawns, Shrubs, and Trees
Your lawn and landscape choices can have a big impact on supporting healthy water in our lakes, rivers and streams. These practices can also improve the health and appearance of your grass, trees, and plants to keep your property looking great with less maintenance and lower costs.
When large amounts of polluted runoff is sent into our lakes, river, and streams the water becomes unhealthy for people, plants and animals. The chemicals in herbicides and pesticides, and the nutrients in fertilizers pollute our water when they’re washed from lawns and gardens into storm drains and roadside ditches.
Healthy and attractive lawns and gardens can be thoughtfully maintained without harmful chemicals to protect water quality.
- Healthy Lawn Care Tips
- Water Wisely
- Dangers of "Weed & Feed"
- Integrated Pest Management
- Chemical Pesticides
Healthy Lawn Care Tips
Mow High … Set your mower 3” or higher. This promotes strong, healthy root growth, shades out weeds, and helps keep your lawn thick and healthy.
Mulch Grass Clippings … Leave clippings on the lawn to fertilize your grass naturally and help retain soil moisture. Clippings break down quickly and do not cause thatch!
Sweep it Back … Sweep or blow clippings back onto your lawn to keep them out of the drains and waterways.
Aerate Compacted Soil … This helps promote a dense, healthy lawn by improving drainage and increasing the water and oxygen that reaches grass roots.
Managing Thatch … Thatch builds up when there aren’t enough microorganisms in the soil to break down the woody remains of grass. To support these healthy microorganisms, keep soil aerated and sprinkle compost over the lawn instead of fertilizing or using insecticides.
A green lawn in Michigan only needs .5-1.5 inches of water each week. Too much watering increases costs and can be stressful for grass and plants. Nutrients are lost and the microorganisms that keep your soil and grass healthy can drown. Extra water will also saturate your soil which creates runoff.
Water Less … Water lightly and frequently instead of soaking your lawn. Consistent soil moisture helps beneficial microorganisms stay active, minimizes stress to your grass, and helps prevent runoff.
Droughts … It’s ok to adapt in hot weather. Temporary lawn dormancy is a natural response to drought and will not permanently ruin your lawn. (In times of extended droughts lasting longer than a month light watering may be necessary)
Smart Water … Always make sure sprinklers are directed away from hard surfaces to reduce waste and runoff. Adjust sprinkler systems depending on the weather and keep irrigation systems maintained. New automated smart watering systems that are climate or soil moisture-based can evaluate weather and soil conditions to calculate and adjust watering.
Irrigation systems should be designed to avoid overwatering. Systems that are easy to adjust can be rescheduled and redirected as needed.
Problem: excessive aquatic plant growth, nuisance algal blooms, decreased oxygen levels, decreased aesthetics and impacts to erosion
Do you really need fertilizer? Most lawns in Michigan do not and there are lots of better ways to support healthy lawns, gardens, and trees. Fertilizers and herbicides eventually make their way to our rivers, lakes and streams where they hurt water quality and all the plants, animals, and people that depend on water. Avoid fertilizers to save money, time, and protect our water quality.
Testing Soil … pH and Fertility… Organic Matter … Healthy soil has high organic matter which provides lots of nutrients to grass and plants and holds water. MSU Extension can tell you exactly what kind of nutrients and organic matter your soil needs for your desired outcome.
Compost instead of Fertilizer … just ½ inch of compost raked over your lawn can contribute all the organic matter, nutrients, and microorganisms you need to build soil fertility.
Dangers of “Weed & Feed”
The routine application of fertilizer and pesticides through the spring, summer, and fall are promoted as the fastest way to a “perfect lawn” but have many dangers and consequences. Weeds are not the cause of an unhealthy lawn, they’re the result of one. The best defense against weeds is a thick healthy lawn that comes from proper watering, mowing, and natural fertilizing techniques. In addition, most insects found on a lawn are beneficial and are necessary to keep grass healthy and strong.
Fertilizer Rules … if you are required to fertilizer proper application techniques, timing and appropriate quantities are critical to understand. Understand the label, ingredients, and directions completely. Always avoid products with pesticides or herbicides.
Seasons … Fertilize in the fall instead of the spring. Never fertilize frozen ground.
Weather … never fertilize when rain or winds are in the for
Healthy Shrubs and Trees … do NOT require annual fertilizing. If woody plants look unhealthy it is more likely due to poor soil, insect, disease or weather patterns. Compost, mulch, and pruning are much more sustainable ways to support healthy plants. If it is determined trees or shrubs need fertilizer it is best to apply when the plants are dormant in the late fall or early spring. Fertilizing at the wrong time will actually deplete stored food supply and weaken a plant’s ability to survive harsh winters or summers.
Integrated Pest Management and Pesticides
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) uses strategies to minimize pests, weeds, and disease through cultural, mechanical and biologic controls instead of chemical ones. This includes working to eliminate conditions favorable to pests and promote natural controls such as beneficial insects.
It’s critical to identify the specific insect or weed of concern and its stage of development in order to use the least toxic control option. Pesticides are used as a last resort and only in a way that maximizes their effectiveness and minimizing their danger to the environment.
What is IPM?
Cultural Controls – Designing and maintaining your landscape so that it can’t support problem pests can be the healthiest and most cost-effective strategy.
Mechanical Controls – Actions such as removing weeds by pulling or hoeing; removing insect eggs, larvae, cocoons, and plants by hand; removing pest-infected plant residue; covering the garden with landscape fabric or mulch to prevent weed germination
Biological Controls – Supporting organisms that feed on or infect pests. These natural enemies frequently prevent the pest population from reaching damaging levels.
The Right Plants … choose plants that naturally tend to be free of major pests and diseases and those that are well adapted to our climate including the soil, light and moisture conditions they will be in. (for example, plants that require sun are more susceptible to pests when grown in shade). PH levels also affect a plant’s ability to withstand pests.
Healthy Plants … Weeds, pests, and diseases are usually the result of poor growing conditions and unhealthy plants, NOT the cause of them. Keeping plants healthy with good horticultural techniques and maintaining healthy soils and site conditions are the foundations of any IPM program.
- Diversify plantings with a variety of species
- Aerate soil and add organic matter
- Water only as needed and minimize fertilizer
- Promote air circulation through spacing, thinning and pruning
Watching your landscape … monitor your site and learning to identify pests and disease, as well as beneficial insects. It helps to become familiar with their development stages and what they need to survive. Time control actions to take place during the most vulnerable stage of weed, insect, or disease development
Accepting “weeds” can lower your need for chemical treatments. Expanding our aesthetic values is one of the most important things we can do to protect water quality.
Protecting Sensitive Areas … when a site is near a water body, dry pond, drainage ditch, vegetable garden, children’s play area, or public place select a pest management technique that minimizes harm.
Chemical Pesticides: A LAST Resort
What’s the Problem? Pesticides can harm people, pets and wildlife, kill helpful organisms and beneficial insects, and contaminate groundwater and the water in our lakes, rivers, and streams.
In IPM, chemicals are just one small part of the whole plan. If pesticides are going to be used it is important to understand each product’s purpose and risks. The least toxic option should be chosen and applied at the most effective time in the pest’s life cycle. When selecting a product make sure it matches your specific pest problem.
Follow label directions exactly. Never use rough estimates when mixing or applying pesticides. Risks and dangers increase when instructions are not followed exactly. Do not mix different pesticides. Always wear protective clothing and gear when handling pesticides.
Limit pesticide or herbicide use by spot-treating problem areas and avoid blanket treatments. Never apply pesticides in wet weather or when precipitation or high winds are in the forecast.
A pesticide applicator license is required for anyone using pesticides for hire and it is illegal to apply pesticides improperly. That’s because applying pesticides is complex and improper use can be very dangerous. Please take this into consideration the next time your business considers using a pesticide or hiring a contractor.
Pesticide storage should always be kept away from storm drains and waterways, at least 150 feet from any drinking water well and at least 200 feet from any area that holds water, even intermittently like a drainage ditch. Pesticides should be stored indoors, in areas designed to completely contain leaks and spills that are clearly labeled.
If pesticides are used on your property know what they are and what to do it a spill occurs. Keep appropriate clean-up materials readily available.
Keep containers clean and leak-free to prevent pesticides from unintentionally getting into the ground. Never allow rinse water to flow into water systems.