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Healthy Lawns and Healthy Lakes

My husband and I had the privilege of listening to a speaker from the MSU extension program from Oakland County as she presented a program regarding healthy landscaping and yard management for lakefront owners at the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association conference on April 14th. She made some very important points to help reduce the weeds and algae growth, promote fish populations, and preserve our shorelines.

Having a lawn that stretches down to the waters edge, or the edge of your lake barrier has a negative effect on the lake. Grass (especially grass that is cut regularly) has very short roots and does not help to retain excess nutrients like phosphorus or nitrates from entering the water. MSU and Michigan Lakes and Streams Associations promotes a buffer zone which is a “no mow and no fertilization” zone of at least 4-8 feet from the waters edge. Allowing natural plants to grow in that zone promotes a natural habitat for birds and wildlife and helps to filter the water to prevent excess nutrients in “run-off” to enter the water. This helps to prevent algae growth explosions, which are dangerous to the fish and the lake. It also promotes healthy native plant life which supports birds and butterfly habitats on the shore.

Another important point made in her presentation was when she asked, “Where does storm water go?” The answer is directly into the lake. Any fertilizer or grass clippings left on the road is washed directly into the lake. Sweeping and tidying up after mowing and fertilizing prevents unwanted nutrients from finding their way into our lake.

Should you fertilize as a lake front owner? This is totally up to you and can be done with minimal negative lake impact if you follow these guidelines. Don’t use fertilizers with phosphorous unless your lawn is in need (soil test to find out) this area is very high in phosphorous so unless you are starting a new lawn, the rule of thumb is don’t use it. Use nitrogen that is slow release it will tell you on the bag “WIN”–water-soluble nitrogen is listed on that preferred fertilizer. Don’t fertilize before May, the plants/grass are not ready to receive the nutrients because they are either too saturated with water or not thawed enough to absorb the nutrients and they just run off. Above all, remember the importance of the buffer zone. Keep these things in mind and fertilizing your lawn can be safe for the lake.

Living on a lake is very different than living in a subdivision. It entails realizing your responsibilities of stewardship for the lake. Simple measures to protect our lake need to be learned and applied to ensure a healthy lake. Creating a buffer zone is not difficult or expensive. One just needs to think a little differently about what beauty truly is.

Ellen Peden
Sanford Lake Association