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Green Lawns Make Green Lakes
Posted: 11/22/2010

Improving Lake Water Quality: GREEN  LAWNS  MAKE  GREEN  LAKES - presented by the LLPOA Lake Preservation Committee

….or, put another way, “clean lawns help make pea soup or dirty lakes”.   These statements are probably not something that any of us want to hear.   After all, we spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on that lawn every year and, by golly, we want it to be appreciated!   So, just when did this American obsession with lawns begin?

If you have traveled in Ireland, England or New Zealand you remember thinking “This whole country is a beautifully mowed lawn!”.   Why does it look like that?  The answer is sheep – tens of thousands of them graze these largely agricultural countries.   Early English estates maintained their expansive lawns with sheep as well and, at one time, our White House lawn in Washington, D.C. was also home to a flock of sheep. After World War II the first housing developments appeared and the American Garden Club’s mission was to convince the public that it was their civic duty to maintain beautiful healthy lawns.  “It was the conformist 50’s when America’s two greatest worries were Communism and crabgrass”.   Little did they know the extremes to which we would go!

Did you know that we spend over $17 billion annually on our lawns?   Did you know 30% of the water consumed on the East Coast goes to watering lawns?   Did you know the average suburban lawn receives 10 times as much fertilizer and chemical pesticide per acre as farmland?  Did you know that 18% of municipal solid waste is yard waste?  Did you know that grass is the largest “irrigated crop” in the US?

Eeeeuuuu …yuck…pea-soup algae….the lake has turned green!  Excessive nutrients which enter the lake increase the growth of algae. They also deplete dissolved oxygen which is necessary for a healthy lake. Some of these nutrients may enter from adjacent commercial and agricultural land  but we must realize that much of it enters directly from our own properties.

Living at the lake – not just lake front, but any properties through which water passes – imposes special responsibilities on its’ residents.  None of us want to give up our beautiful lawns. We can incorporate practices which will not only be more healthful for the lake, but save us time and money.  Lawn and landscape services used at the lake should be instructed to use lake-friendly practices.   The following are suggestions to improve water quality at our lake:

  1. Use a minimum of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers on your lawn.  Never apply on a windy day or just before a heavy rain.    Use “lake-friendly” fertilizers (no phosphorus); controlled-release applications are a safer solution.
  2. Set your mower blades at 3” or higher and mow less frequently.  Taller grass shades the ground and preserves moisture,which means less watering. This taller grass also inhibits weed growth.  Grass clippings left on the lawn are a good source of slow-release fertilizer; if you do bag clippings, consider using them as mulch or compost.
  3. Go online and research alternative treatments for your lawn – corn gluten can be used to control weeds; milky spore is a long-term, non-chemical solution to grubs.
  4. If you have a wet area or spring in your lawn, do not fight it.  Plant a “rain garden” using moisture-loving native plants.  They take up much of the moisture and add stability to the ground.
  5. If you water your lawn, do so in the early morning or late evening to avoid losing moisture into the atmosphere.  Plant lawn mixtures formulated for this area.

 For lake-front homes:

  1. buffer of at least three feet of native plants at the shore will slow nutrient run-off  before it reaches the lake and keep the geese out of your yard.
  2. Waterfowl repellents may repel non-migratory Canada geese, but will also repel and potentially adversely affect desirable waterfowl and birds here at the lake.  Widespread long term use is not recommended. 

There are excellent websites on these subjects for you to browse.  In addition to our own state, Maine, Wisconsin and Minnesota have informative sites as does Shonomish County, Washington.  There are also many private lakes which publish information.     Put your web browser to work on lakefront landscaping, lake friendly fertilizer, lake shoreline buffers and related subjects.

Previous Lake Preservation Committee articles can be read at: http://www.latonkawebsite.com/

Previous articles include: 

  • Improving Lake Water Quality with Vegetative Buffer Strips 
  • Improving Lake Water Quality: Trees – “If I never see another, it will be too soon!” 
  • Improving Lake Water Quality: Green Laws make Green Lakes
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