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Green practices can produce green lawns

Experts offer several tips on yard maintenance

September 30, 2009
By LINDSEY ORY Messenger staff writer

Lush, green, immaculate lawns.

Many homeowners fight off weeds, thistles and bugs or just reseed their lawns, and fall is the right time to give your yard a face-lift.

But just as chemicals can run off from farm fields into local rivers and streams when not properly administered, the same thing can happen on residential lawns. While there are state regulations for chemical application on lawns, there are no city regulations in Fort Dodge.

Local drinking water is not affected by runoff, according to John W. Pray Water Facility Superintendent John Horrell.

"The water for the city of Fort Dodge does not come from surface water," Horrell said. "Our water comes from deep wells created by clay formations. Runoff can't contaminate those aquifers."

But that doesn't mean chemicals can't make it into area streams, like the Des Moines River.

Les Wilshusen, general manager of Mike's Lawn Service in Storm Lake, offered some tips to keep your lawn and the environment healthy.


Phosphorus is one problem plaguing waterways. Wilshusen said homeowners with established lawns do not need to use fertilizers that contain the chemical. If introducing seed or sod on the lawn, use a slow-release fertilizer with phosphorus.

Granular fertilizer

If applying granular fertilizer, sweep or blow grains back onto the lawn. The stray chemicals will run off into rivers and ponds if left on sidewalks and driveways.

"When we fertilize lawns, our employees have hand-held blowers they use to send everything back into the grass. It's just one way to be a good steward," Wilshusen said. "Once the chemicals are on the lawn, they won't move."

Chemicals decompose

Every chemical eventually decomposes, no matter how much is used. So when one is tackling crab grass or grubs, know that after three to four months the chemical breaks down.

"If homeowners follow the label's instructions, there should never be a problem with anything leeching or washing away," Wilshusen said.


Herbicides are not preventative. So spraying chemicals on a lawn when no weeds are visible is a waste. However, if a lawn is riddled with weeds, spray a herbicide directly on leaves and it should die in a few days.

Grass clippings

Keep grass on lawns. This may sound silly, but there are all kinds of elements in grass clippings.

"The worst runoff pollution happens when people mow and blow their grass clippings into driveways, streets, or right into ponds," Wilshusen said.

By keeping grass clippings on lawns, homeowners can spare themselves the work of one lawn application per year because nutrients in the clippings are returned to the soil.

For those with the budget, organic lawn treatments are available.

Manure as fertilizer

Chicken manure is one organic option. Since the manure has low nitrogen content, homeowners need to apply more than if they use synthetic.

"With chicken manure people need to use 50 to 60 pounds per 1,000 square feet," Wilshusen said. "Three pounds of synthetic fertilizer produces the same outcome."

Weed control

Corn gluten meal can be used to rid lawns of crab grass. It offers 50 percent control and costs twice as much as synthetic weed applications that offer 98 percent control. Homeowners can also manually dig out weeds or mix a solution of Mule Team Borax and apply to yard. Be careful not to apply too much or the solution will kill patches of grass.


Wilshusen said the only realistic organic solution for bugs is soapy water.

"It doesn't kill them," he said, "it just irritates them so they'll travel to your neighbor's yard."

Contact Lindsey Ory at (515) 573-2141 or



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