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Healthy Lawns and Gardens

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We can all work together to learn and use Healthy Lawn and Garden practices that are earth friendly and water conscious. Not only can we have a clean and healthy environment, but we can also enhance the beauty of our community.

  • Mow it high and let it lie.

  • Don’t guess. Soil test. (You might not need fertilizer)

  • Choose an earth-friendly fertilizer.

  • Water Properly.

  • Control weeds with minimal impact.

  • Select a lawn care service that offers a Healthy Lawn Care Program.

  • Reduce your turf with native plants and ground cover.

1. Proper Mowing: Cut it High and Let it Lie

  • Grass blade length should be 2.5 to 3.5” in summer stress periods, 2.0 to 2.5” in spring and fall.  Longer grass blades can grow and support more roots and develop a deeper root system that is better able to find water and nutrients in the soil. Scalping the lawn forces grass plants to focus their energy on re-growing their blades, not deepening their roots, plus it makes it more likely that weeds can muscle in. Taller grass blades shade the soil and keep it cooler, helping prevent weed seeds from sprouting.

  • Try to avoid removing more than 1/3 of the blade during a single cut.

  • Mow when the grass is dry.

  • Let the clippings fall. Grass clippings break down quickly and return beneficial nutrients to the soil.

2. Consider a No Mow May to help save bees and other pollinators.

  •  Some property owners refrain from mowing their lawns through May, Dandelions, and other wildflowers, including the prolific crocus, can be a vital early food source for pollinators after a long winter. Bees and other pollinators are integral to pollination of plants to grow a wide diversity of essential foods, including fruit, nuts, and vegetables.

3. Fertilizer:

  • Don’t guess. Soil test. Have your soil tested to determine if you even need any fertilizer. By having your soil tested you can learn which nutrients are present and which ones need to be added depending on the plant(s) you are trying to grow. You can avoid over-application of fertilizers which can waste money, reduce plant quality, and pollute streams, lakes, and groundwater. Based on your soil test results, you will receive a custom fertilization program to meet the needs of your plants and safeguard the environment. (

  • Do not fertilize (or allow your lawn care company to do so) when the ground is frozen. The ground temperature should be 60°F.

  • Fertilizer is labeled with 3 numbers, representing N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium). The second number (P) should be zero or very low, with a label of SRN (Slow-Release Nitrogen) or WIN (Water Insoluble Nitrogen).   Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Significant increases in algae harm water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.   Michigan law restricts phosphorus fertilizer applications on lawns.  Fortunately, most garden centers, hardware stores, and large
    chain stores carry phosphorus free lawn fertilizers.

  • Fertilizer should be free of pesticides and herbicides. Never use Weed and Feed. Combination products often add unnecessary herbicides to the landscape. A better approach is to identify the weed and selectively spot treat or dig by hand. Smart gardeners can make a difference by taking steps to be thoughtful about how they maintain their lawn. Look to reduce and minimize the impact of gardening practices on bees.

Fertilizer Summary

Slow-release fertilizer:

  • Natural Organic fertilizer; or

  • Synthetic fertilizer with 40% or more water insoluble nitrogen; 40% controlled-release component or stabilized nitrogen fertilizer with equivalent performance capacity

  • Free of all pesticides and herbicides, i.e. no weed & feed

No phosphorus fertilizer:

  • Zero Phosphorus

  • See Michigan Fertilizer Law as amended (MCL 324.8501 et. seq.).

  • Apply fertilizer (if needed) when the grass plant is growing, spring and fall.

  • Sweep fertilizer from paved surfaces back onto the lawn.  Fertilizer left on sidewalks and driveways can easily wash into storm drains and the river.

  • Keep that fertilizer from washing into the water. Create a 15 ft. to 25 ft. buffer zone from lakes and rivers. (State law minimum.).

4. Core Aeration is one of the best things you can do to help your lawn:

  • Increases oxygen levels in the soil (soil microbes need oxygen to live and work).

  • Reduces soil compaction.

  • Reduces thatch. Thatch is normal. Up to one inch is beneficial; it prevents weed seeds from reaching the ground and sprouting and cushions the grass from heavy traffic.

  • Do not use dethatching devices – they cut through the connectors (rhizomes and stolons) to new grass plants and will thin-out your lawn.

5. Controlling Weeds:

  • Hand-dig where possible.

  • Spot treat with the correct herbicide, and carefully follow the directions.

6. Proper Watering:

  • Determine the amount of water your lawn may need on a weekly basis, 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches per week (1 inch per week during dry weather). Measure the amount of water applied by placing an open, straight sided container on the lawn. Mark the container with the desired amount (0.5, 1.0, 1.5 inches). Keep track of the time during the test so you can water for the same amount of time in the future to get your desired amount of water on the lawn.

  • Water between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.—when the sun is low, winds are calm, and temperatures are cool. Midday watering tends to be less efficient because of water loss due to evaporation and windy conditions during the day. Watering in the evening isn’t a good idea either because leaves can remain wet overnight—an open invitation for fungus to grow. By watering in the morning, you give the leaves a chance to dry out during the day. Overly wet grass can develop mold and mildew.

  • Water Only What Grows -If you have an underground sprinkler system, make sure the heads are adjusted properly to avoid watering sidewalks and driveways. A properly adjusted sprinkler head should spray large droplets of water, not a fine mist, to minimize evaporation and wind drift.

7. Garden Waste Management.

  • In the Fall- plan on not removing perennial garden waste until the following spring to allow bees who may be nesting in cut stems or branches to overwinter.  Birds use seeds for food. Much of the material will break down over the winter and spring so there may not be much to clean up the following summer.

  • Mulch your leaves into your lawn.

  • In the Spring - Try not to move the decomposed materials until temperatures reach at least 50 degrees F, when most overwintering insects and pollinators will have already emerged.

8. Lawn Care Services.

  • Select a lawn care service that offers a Healthy Lawn Care Program. The Healthy Lawn Care Program (HLCP) for Watershed Protection is an environmentally sound lawn care program that is offered by participating members of the Michigan Green Industry Association. ( The Healthy Lawn Care Program has been initiated to help service companies comply with environmentally sensitive lawn care issues, such as, the overuse of fertilizers, pesticides and runoff into storm drains, lakes and/or rivers.

  • The key components of the program are: On-site consultations, soil nutrient testing, fertilizer options (including at least 50% slow-release fertilizer), fertilizer quantities of either two, three or four pounds of nitrogen applied over the growing season (depending on type of turf), low or NO-phosphorus options, advice to homeowners on proper maintenance and cultural practices, such as, mowing and watering. Pesticide options for insect and disease control may include programs such as: no pesticide, spot-treatment for weeds or one-time "rescue operation" for weed control. 

  • We hope that more, especially local, companies will begin to follow the HLCP. If customers demand proper lawn care, the companies will respond. Please encourage your lawn care company to participate in the Healthy Lawn Program for Watershed Protection!

9. Consider reducing the amount of turf in your yard.

  • You can reduce your maintenance workload, have a beautiful yard, support pollinators, and the environment by turning some of your turf into native ground covers or gardens.   There are many resources and local experts available to help. Here are a few:

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