Reducing Pollution While Caring for Your Lawn

By Chuck Watson

Last month’s Gem Lake News contained the first in a series of articles on Storm Water Pollution Prevention. (SWPP) In that article, we discussed what storm water pollution is, how we all contribute to its production, and how we can all work to reduce it by taking simple steps in our daily lives.

In this article, we are going to share some ideas regarding storm water run-off and our own lawns. We all have lawns, some small and some very large. No matter the size our lawns are, they have the potential to add a tremendous amount of pollution in the form of runoff. Over fertilization, over watering, over application of pesticides and herbicides, direct disposal of lawn clipping and leaves, all contribute to this problem. Erosion from bare patches is another problem. Your actions out in the yard can help or hurt the storm water run-off that ends up in our rivers or other drinking water sources.  Let’s look at some ways that each of us can become part of the solution, not part of the problem:

#1. Over fertilization: I like my lawn to look green and healthy. However the types of fertilizers we use today can add a significant amount of pollution to our runoff. One solution is to look in to the various types of organic fertilizers that are now on the market. While they are more expensive, they also have a couple of huge benefits. The first is less pollution from run-off. The second benefit hits even closer to home. Current non-organic fertilizers can sometimes be potentially dangerous to the user. Using organic fertilizers can reduce your exposure to dangerous chemicals. One web-site that has great information on organic fertilizers is:

#2. Over Watering: While the temptation last season was to water, water, water, this strategy doesn’t prevent you from ending up with a solid field of brown crunchy grass during times of drought. The secret is to water effectively. This means understanding that grass with deeper roots will thrive more easily. The optimum root depth will be about 6 inches.

Thus, when watering we need to determine at what rate and how much water is needed to accomplish this. When watering, observe what is happening. Is the ground absorbing the water or is it just running off or ponding?  By learning how your lawn is accepting the water, you can better manage the watering of your lawn. Trickle or drip water systems can save water by directly irrigating the roots, resulting in less evaporation than overhead sprinklers. Watering should be done in the early morning to prevent evaporation.

Next, when planning landscape designs for your own yard, go for a mixture of elements if possible. Grass requires eight units of water, compared to five for trees and four for shrubs. Large, expansive yards that use grass as their primary element are going to require a lot more water to maintain that a thoughtful mix of elements. In my own yard, I have a mix of trees and shrubs, plus I let about half my yard to grow naturally. I like the look of mixing in the natural grass with a manicured lawn.

#3. Over application of pesticides and herbicides: Many people want a lawn that is mostly free of weeds and insects. As property owners, we all must decide how many weeds can be tolerated before we take action. The best way to keep weeds out is to maintain a healthy lawn. A thick dense lawn helps shade the ground, preventing weeds from taking root. But if weeds do take hold, a good weed-puller is an option, versus laying down chemicals. The obvious benefit to doing it manually would be getting some great exercise. Chemicals used in fighting weeds should only be applied as a spot treatment, never as a universal application.

#4. Direct disposal of lawn clippings and leaves: The days of burning our leaves, and the great autumn smell this generated, have gone the way of the black and white television set. Each of us has had to find something else to do with our lawn waste. Composting is the best solution. One easy first step is to designate an area in your yard as a compost site, or use a compost container to hold the leaves and other lawn waste.

Managing the growth of the lawn and when we cut it is a key component in creating manageable compost and a more beautiful lawn. Different grasses need different heights to grow and stay healthy. Kentucky Blue Grasses, as an example, prefer a height of 3”. Keeping your grass at longer heights uses less water, and helps it compete more effectively with the weeds. One rule of thumb should be, cut your grass using the higher end of the mowing range than shorter. Shorter grass needs more water and decreases its root depth. Grasses grow differently throughout the summer, so cut the grass only when it needs it. By managing the height of the grass as it grows, we reduce the amount of clippings that are created. Grass clippings are good to leave in the grass. This provides nutrients and cover to help hold the water. However, an excess of clippings from letting the grass grow too long between cuttings is not good either. These extra clippings need to be removed and put into our composting area. Another rule of thumb, if your neighbors are starting to complain about your unsightly lawn, you are probably let it grow too long.

#5.Erosion of soil from bare spots:  Bare spots in your lawn lead to the run off of the unprotected soil. It is very important that you deal with this effectively. One smart place to start is to discuss your “lawn balding” problem with the local garden center. Depending upon the slope of the affected lawn, how much sun or shade it gets and what kind of soil you have in that part of your lawn, the center should have suggestions on what type of grass seed will most effectively take hold. It may make sense to consider planting trees or shrubs in those bare spots. Remember, they need less water than grass.

As you can see, a lot goes into how our lawns perform and the amount of run-off pollution each of us creates. By being aware of the chemicals we are using, and by being more aware of how our lawns perform when watered, we can greatly reduce the problem of storm water pollution from our run-off.


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