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Guide to lake-friendly
lawn care and
grounds keeping
What is a watershed?
Non-point source pollution
Low-input lawn care
• Grass type/selection

• Effective mowing

• Watering your lawn

• Soil building

• Controlling weeds

• Managing thatch

• Grub control

• Using fertilizers

• Shaded lawns

Integrated Pest Management

Lake-friendly fertilizing
Lake-friendly “housekeeping”
I Organic fertilizers
II Chemical alternatives
III Getting a soil test
IV Grass species to avoid
V Grass seed and sites
VI Nematode control for lawns
VII Pesticide ordinances in Burlington
VIII Resources and references

What is a Watershed? Watershed
A watershed is the
surrounding land area that drains
into a lake, stream, brook or river. Everyone lives in a
watershed even if the land is not located next to a
stream or body of water.

The Englesby Brook

The Englesby Brook
Watershed encompasses
approximately one square
mile of land in Burlington
and South Burlington,
Vermont. The brook drains 600 acres, including the
commercial areas of Pine Street, Flynn Avenue and
Shelburne Road. Englesby Brook travels from South
Prospect Street to Oakledge Park and has an outlet at
Blanchard Beach on Lake Champlain. Englesby Brook is
an impaired stream affected by urban stormwater.

The Significance
Lake Champlain is the main
source of drinking water
for the Burlington area as
well as an important
recreational, commercial,
and tourism resource. At
the brook’s outlet, Blanchard Beach has been
permanently closed since 1991 due to pollutants
entering Lake Champlain from Englesby Brook.

Non-Point Non-point source pollution
comes from land use in the
Pollution Englesby Brook Watershed.

Common sources of non-point pollution include:

• improper storage and disposal of household
cleaners, solvents, and materials
• improper cleanup and disposal of leaks, spills,
and automotive fluids
• erosion of topsoil, and runoff of fertilizers,
pesticides, plant debris, and animal waste

Eutrophication occurs when excess nutrients and
pollutants build up in lakes and streams. Runoff of
fertilizers, top soil, lawn clippings, leaves and trimmings
from lawns and landscaped areas can result in excess
nutrients entering Lake Champlain.
Excess nitrogen and phosphorus can cause increased
algal and aquatic plant growth. Algal blooms that cover
the surface of the lake block sunlight from reaching
bottom plants and decrease amounts of oxygen in the
water. This can lead to the death of many aquatic life
More than 80% of the phosphorus in Lake Champlain
comes from non-
point sources.
Excess nutrients
affect the biology,
aesthetics, and
recreational qualities of Lake Champlain.

Lawns and Gardens
Lawns and gardens are a significant source of non-point
pollution in Lake Champlain. Lawn care practices that
cause pollution include over-fertilization, unnecessary
pesticide applications, over-watering, and direct disposal
of lawn clippings, leaves, and trimmings into streams or
the street. Erosion and runoff of fertilizer, pesticides,
and top soil from landscaped areas and gardens affects
the water quality in Englesby Brook and Lake Champlain.

The Solution

By adopting low input lawn care techniques and

maintenance practices, businesses and property
managers can reduce nutrient inputs into Lake
Champlain, save money and labor, and create cleaner
water and a healthier environment for everyone.

Low Input Lawn Care

Grass Types and Selection

Choosing the proper grass variety is the first step

in creating and maintaining a healthy vigorous lawn.

Considerations when
choosing grass types
• available shade or sun
• drainage
• available nutrients
• climate
• desired maintenance level
• proximity to a walkway
or drive that gets salted
in the winter
• amount of traffic

Cool season grass species that fit Vermont’s cool

climate include:
• Fescues
• Bluegrasses
• Ryegrasses
• Bent grasses

Effective Mowing
Proper mowing is essential
for growing a healthy,
vigorous lawn. The following
practices allow grass to grow
a deeper, more extensive
root system, aid in creating greater resilience to
disease, and allow the grass to shade out and out
compete low growing weeds such as crabgrass.

Problems with mowing too short include:

• increased incidence of weeds, drought and sunscald

• prevention of the development of deep roots

• increased development of thatch

Tips for proper mowing

• Mow no shorter than 2½ to 3½ inches high.

• Leave grass ½ inch higher in shaded areas.

• Never remove more than 1/3 height of the grass

in a single mowing.

MOWING HEIGHTS FOR • Grass may be mowed up to

SPECIFIC GRASS TYPES 1 inch shorter in early spring
and early fall to stimulate
Grass Height
root growth.
Tall fescues 2.5 - 3 in
• Mow grass regularly.
2-3 in
• Sharpen mower blades
Fine fescues 2-3 in
every 7-8 hours of mowing.
2.5 in

Watering Your Lawn Lawn

Too much or too little water can cause undue stress

on grass and garden plants.
• Too much water can result in stressed roots and soil
organisms due to limited oxygen.
• Too little water also causes stress to plant roots and
soil organisms and may cause the grass to become

Watering Tips

• Established grass generally needs 3/4 inch to 1

inch of water each week depending on the weather.
• It is best to water grass by 10 a.m. to allow time
for the grass blades to dry before evening. This
practice saves water and reduces plant disease.
• Avoid watering lightly unless you are keeping a
newly seeded area moist for germination. Light
watering inhibits deep root growth and enhances the
presence of grubs.
• Reduce evaporation around plants
and shrubs by applying mulch.

When watering a lawn or garden

consider the rate, amount, and best
time of day for watering.

Soil Building Lawn

Soil can be thought of as a living organism that

must be fed and cared for. Healthy soil contains
many beneficial microorganisms that aid in
enhancing plant growth. Having healthy soil is
essential for growing healthy plants.

Benefits of Soil Microorganisms

• Microorganisms decompose soil organic matter,
making nutrients more plant accessible.
• Microorganisms enhance nitrogen levels by “fixing”
atmospheric nitrogen into “plant friendly” forms.
• Microorganisms generate carbon dioxide for
enhanced plant growth.
• Microorganisms dissolve mineral nutrients from
rocks and stones.
• Microorganisms decompose thatch and produce
organic matter or humus in the soil.
• Microorganisms improve soil aeration and help
control insects and diseases.

A primary benefit of organic fertilization is

that it “feeds the soil” through the use of raw
materials that stimulate and feed the many
beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

Controlling Weeds Lawn
Controlling weeds is a common challenge in
maintaining any landscaped area. Proper mowing,
watering and a diverse mix of turf grasses are the
first steps in controlling weed populations in lawns.

Weeding tips

• When buying grass seed beware of “fillers” that

can be direct sources of weed seeds in the lawn.

• A healthy lawn will out

compete weeds.
• Some grass species
contain natural com-
pounds that inhibit the
growth of some weeds. A
good example is peren-
nial ryegrass.

Using corn gluten to inhibit weeds

• Corn gluten is a natural pre-emergent herbicide.
• Corn gluten breaks down into compounds that inhibit
root development on germinating seeds of crabgrass,
dandelion and other common weeds.

Managing Thatch

What is thatch?
Grass Plants Thatch is a straw-like layer
between the grass and the
Thatch soil that is an indicator of
unhealthy growing
Plant Roots conditions in a lawn.

What are the effects of excess thatch?

• causes drought stress in lawns
• harbors insects and disease
• increases winter kill
• allows for poor water infiltration and poor nutrient
• may cause the grass to become soft and spongy
What causes thatch?
Thatch may result from over watering, over
fertilization, or mowing too close.
The solution
De-thatch lawns by
raking then sprinkling
with compost.
Lawns should also be
aerated, ideally in the
spring or fall.

Grub Control Lawn
Testing for Grubs
• Grubs are insect larvae that live in
the soil and feed on roots.
• Inspect for grubs between August
and September when the new
generations hatch.
• Cut and carefully lift up a 12 inch square block of sod.
• Count the number of grubs present under the sod.
• Repeat this test several times randomly across the
lawn to get an average count.
• Consider treatment when there are 8-10 or more
grubs per square foot.
• Send pest samples to UVM Master Gardeners for

Grub Control
1. Treat in the fall or not at all.
2. Planting grub resistant grass species, such as tall
fescues, in heavily infested areas lessens grub
3. It’s important to identify the species of grub so the
proper control is applied. Consult the UVM Master
Gardener program for recommended controls.
4. Beneficial nematodes, available in garden centers or
by mail order, have proven to be an effective, non-
toxic alternative to grub control.

Fertilizing the Soil Lawn
Enhancing Soil Nutrients Care

1. Leave a thin layer of fine grass clippings each

time the lawn is mowed. This practice can
replenish almost half of the required nutrients.
2. Apply a thin layer of compost (up to 1/2 inch) to
enhance nutrient supply, increase aeration and
water holding capacity, and promote the
development of beneficial soil organisms.
3. Use organic or slow release fertilizers that feed
the soil over time, which can prevent nutrient
leaching and runoff and loss of fertilizer.
4. Soils in the northeastern U.S. tend to be acidic,
which can restrict the availability of nutrients
to growing plants. Use a pH test to determine
soil acidity. Apply lime to lawns and landscaped
areas if needed to raise the soil pH.
5. Fertilizer and
lime applications
are most
effective in the
fall. To prevent
runoff, avoid
applying fertilizer
or lime on frozen
ground or when
heavy rains are

Using Fertilizers Lawn

One of the most common mistakes made by

homeowners and businesses is to routinely apply
chemical fertilizers to their lawns. Using chemical
fertilizers without considering alternatives creates
unnecessary costs in terms of materials and labor.
Applications of fertilizers can also result in the
need for extra mowing and irrigation of lawns.

Problems with Over-fertilizing

• increases occurrence of thatch.

• lowers grass tolerance to heat stress
• can cause fertilizer burn
• More than half of the soluble nitrogen applied to
lawns in the spring is lost to leaching. Too much
fertilizer applied too often reduces the natural
efficiency of the lawn, making the grass weak and
less resistant to disease.
• Over-fertilizing can kill many beneficial organisms
living in the soil. Too much fertilizer can decrease
the soil pH, which in turn reduces the nutrients
available for growing plants.
• If excess fertilizer stays at the soil surface, it can
limit the growth of deep roots and weaken the plants’
ability to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

Shaded Lawns Lawn
The Shade Challenge

• Shade significantly reduces the amount of light

available to grass. This reduces the rate of
photosynthesis and thereby reduces growth.
• Shade causes the grass to
stay wet longer, and the air in
shaded areas is often
stagnant. This can encourage
the development of diseases Diseased Leaf

especially powdery mildew.

The Solution

• Choose disease resistant grass varieties.

• Choose shade tolerant grass varieties.
• Increase air flow through the area by trimming
and pruning trees, bushes and shrubs.
• Reduce shade from trees by removing lower
branches and thinning upper branches.
• Mow grass in shaded
areas ½ inch to 1 inch higher
than grass in sunny areas.
• Water shade grass
before 2:00 p.m. to allow
the water time to evaporate
before sundown.

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated pest
management, or IPM, is
a process that uses
biological, cultural and
chemical practices to
manage pest problems
in a way that minimizes
risk to human health,
society and the environment.

Through IPM, the use of chemical pesticides is greatly
reduced. IPM views the use of pesticides as a last
resort, taking care to adopt cultural and biological
controls first.
When pesticide use on lawns, flower beds, and gardens
is reduced, the number of beneficial organisms in the
soil and environment increases.
Improved soil, plant, and lawn health decreases the cost
of pest control and reduces the amount of runoff of
pesticides and contaminated top soil into Lake Cham-
plain. Clean lakes and waterways are the end result of
lake friendly lawn and garden maintenance practices.

planning and is the use of naturally occuring
timing to con- predators, parasites and
trol pests with pathogens to manage pests. In
the least IPM, for example, lady beetles
amount of are used to control aphid
chemicals. populations.

involves selecting resistant
plant varieties, growing plants
in the proper conditions, and
maintaining plants through
proper irrigation, fertilization,
and pruning practices. A
healthy plant is more resistant
to insect and disease attack in
much the same way that a
healthy person is more
resistant to sickness.

is the use of
commercially available
pesticides to protect
plant material.

Pest Management Tips

1. Get to know your pests.
• Every one to two weeks,
take a walk around your
lawn or landscape. This will
help identify pest
problems before they get
out of control.
• Early identification can eliminate the costs and
hazards of using chemical pesticides.
• Proper identification will determine if the pest is a
beneficial insect or an undesirable insect, what
biological controls (predators of pests) may be
effectively used, and at what point in the life cycle
of the insect the proper control is most effective.
2. Keep plants healthy.
• Stressed plants are more succeptible to pest and
disease damage. Proper watering, fertilization, soil
preparation, mowing and pruning are essential for
optimal plant health.
• Get a soil test every 2-3 years. Remove weeds and
other plant debris to reduce the incidence and
spread of disease.
• Use exclusion barriers such as netting, tree trunk
guards, traps and fences to help eliminate larger
animal problems.
• Purchase disease resistant plant varieties.


3. Don’t allow pests to become established.

• Inspect plants before purchasing to ensure they are
pest and disease free.
• Be clean. Many pests survive through winter among
weeds and plant debris. Remove any leaves, weeds,
and decaying plant material.
4. Manage for beneficial organisms.
• Limit use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
This helps prevent a reduction in the population of
beneficial organisms in the soil.
• Grow a wide variety of plant materials in the
landscape, to provide alternate food sources for
• Use biological controls. This involves the purchase
and release of beneficial organisms.
• The use of biological controls reduces the amount of
pesticides used while maintaining a healthy landscape.

Beneficial organisms…
are the predators, para-
sites, and pathogens that
occur naturally in the land-
scape, helping control un-
wanted pest populations.

Beneficial Nematodes?
Recent studies have shown some species of
nematodes to be effective against turf pests,
especially grubs.

A complete list of Nematodes…

nematodes and their are microscopic worms living in
pest prey can be the soil. There are both good
found in Appendix and bad nematodes.

Hand Picking…
is an effective method for removing
harmful insects from the landscape.
Collected bugs can be placed in a jar
containing soapy water or a cotton ball
soaked in nail polish remover and the

5. Chemical control as a last resort IPM
• Apply pesticides directly on target to
minimize drift and runoff.
• Avoid applying pesticides before rain or during
windy conditions.
• Don’t apply pesticides within
five feet of paved surfaces
or near standing or running Soft bodied pests
water. such as snails and
slugs can be
• Sweep paved areas after
controlled using
application and safely
dispose of plant debris.
• Use the least number of
pesticide applications possible.
• Use insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils rather
than chemical pesticides whenever possible.
• Use granular
formulations vs.
foliar sprays. Beneficial
• Treat only infested
plants, using the
lowest application
rate possible. Green Lacewings
• When cleaning
Praying Mantis
equipment, keep the
Ground beetles
rinse water on the
Trichogramma wasps
lawn, not on paved
surfaces or down
storm drains.

Lake-friendly Fertilizing

Fertilizer Tips
• Know how much fertilizer to apply by having a soil
test done. UVM Master Gardeners provide free
assistance to help in understanding the results.
• Never apply fertilizers on frozen or bare ground.

• Water fertilizer in if applying during a dry period.

• Use organic or other slow release fertilizers.

• Add compost to
flower beds and N:P:K
potting mix. Nitrogen promotes leaf growth
• Never wash Phosphorus promotes root
fertilizer equipment development and stress tolerance

or spills into the Potassium enhances disease

street or into storm resistance, stem strength, and

Benefits of Organics

• Organic fertilizers have a longer decomposition

period allowing for a slower, steadier release of
• As organic fertilizers break down, roots are fed,
allowing plants to build up a reserve of nutrients
that aid plants when under stress.
• Compost increases organic matter in the soil and
encourages the growth of beneficial organisms.

Lake-friendly “Housekeeping”

General Tips
• Keep dumpsters securely closed
and undercover.
• Cover any stockpiled materials
such as mulch, gravel, or building
• Use absorbent materials (e.g. cat litter or sawdust)
to clean up spills, then sweep up and dispose.
• Sweep around storm drains.

• Perform a thorough fall and spring property cleanup.

Car Maintenance
The soap and dirt that
wash away as a result of
car washing can severely
harm local waterways.
• The most lake friendly place to wash cars is at a
commercial carwash that treats its wastewater.
• Use low phosphate detergents and cleaning agents.
• Wash cars less frequently.
• Wash cars on grass or other non paved surface.
• Use a sponge and bucket to reduce water use.
• Empty sponge and bucket into a drain that is
connected to a sanitary sewer or septic system.

Organic Fertilizers Appendix I

Fertilizer N:P:K Release Rate

Alfalfa Meal 2.5 0.5 2.0 Slow

Blood Meal 12.5 1.5 0.6 Medium-Fast

Bone Meal 4.0 21.0 0.2 Slow

Crab Meal 10.0 0.3 0.1 Slow

Fish Meal 15.0 5.0 0.0 Slow

Greensand 0.0 1.5 5.0 Very Slow

Bat Guano 5.5 8.6 1.5 Medium

Kelp Meal 1.0 0.5 0.8 Medium

Dried Manure Varies with source Medium

Rock Phosphate 0.0 18.0 0.0 Very Slow

Wood Ash 0.0 1.5 5.0 Fast

Worm Castings 1.5 2.5 1.3 Medium

Alternatives to Chemicals Appendix II

Purpose Less-Toxic Alternative

Ants Red chili powder at point of entry
Bleach Borax
Car Battery
Corrosion Baking soda and water
Decal remover Soak in white vinegar
1/2 cup baking soda + usual amount of dish
Grease cutters detergent

Plunger followed by 1/2 cup baking soda+1/2

Drain cleaner cup vinegar+2 quarts boiling water

Fertilizer Compost and Vermicompost (worm castings)

Grease removal Borax and damp cloth

hand cleaner Baby oil followed by soap
Linoleum floor
cleaner 1 cup white vinegar + 2 gallons of water

Mildew remover Equal parts vinegar and salt

repellant Citronella candles and oil
Moth repellant Cedar chips in cloth bag
Oil stain White chalk rubbed into stain before
remover washing
Paint brush
softener Hot vinegar

Roach repellant Chopped bay leaves and cucumber skins

Rust remover Lemon juice + salt+ sunlight

Getting a Soil Test Appendix III

Why get a soil test?

Getting a soil test is key to landscape maintenance.
• A soil test will determine pH and nutrient needs and
prevent over application of fertilizers.
• A soil test will identify the nutrients already present
in your soil.
• Soil testing can save money on fertilizer costs and
reduce the amount of nutrient runoff into local

How to take a soil sample?

• Take several soil samples from the top 5-6 inches of
soil in different places along the landscape. Use a
clean tool to take samples.
• Mix the samples together in a clean container.
• Follow directions for sampling on the soil test

Soil test kits can be ordered from

UVM Master Gardeners

655 Spear Street
Burlington, Vermont 05405

Grass Species to Avoid Appendix IV

Annual ryegrass
• bunch forming.
• coarse texture when thinly seeded
• fine texture when thickly seeded
• Annual ryegrass germinates quickly but dies off in
the winter causing gaps in the spring lawn.

Orchard grass and Timothy

• coarse bunch grass
• hard to eliminate once established

Annual bluegrass
• unattractive
• annual that dies off in the winter
• bunch grass

Grass Seed and Sites Appendix V

Site characteristics % by
Grass species weight
Kentucky Bluegrass 50%
Full sun, good fertil-
Fine Fescue 25%
ity, high maintenance
Perennial Ryegrass 25%

Shade, good fertility, Kentucky Bluegrass 30%

Shade tolerant Kentucky
high maintenance
bluegrass 30%
Perennial Rye 20%
Fine Fescue 20%

Kentucky bluegrass 20%

Dry sandy soils
Fine Fescue 80%

Mixed sun and shade Kentucky bluegrass 30%

Fine Fescue 50%
Perennial Rye 20%

Kentucky bluegrass 20%

Low maintentance Fine Fescue 50-60%
Perennial Rye 20%
Dutch White Clover 10%

Moist to wet, highly Kentucky bluegrass 30%

shaded Roughstalk bluegrass 20-40%
Fine Fescue 20-40%
Perennial Rye 20%

Quick cover or over Kentucky bluegrass 20%

Fine Fescue 20%
Perennial Rye 60%

Nematode Control Appendix VI
for Lawns


Annual bluegrass weevil
Bluegrass billbug
Hunting billbug

Black cutworm
Dog/cat flea larvae
European crane fly

Sod webworms

Steinernuma riobravae Tawny mole cricket

Black turf grass ataenius
European chafer
Green June beetle

Japanese beetle

May/June beetle

Northern masked chafer

Southern mole cricket

Pesticide Ordinances Appendix VII

City of Burlington ordinance:

• No pesticide or herbicide or products containing
them may be applied withing 500 feet of Lake
Champlain or its tributaries (e.g. Englesby Brook).
• Special permission must be obtained from the
Burlington Board of Health to apply pesticides in
these areas.
• No pesticides or herbicides may be applied on
grounds of public or private childcare centers, day
care homes, preschools, or K-12 schools without prior

With every use of pesticides

there is some degree of risk.
Many commonly used pesticides
contain dioxin and dioxin-like
chemicals that act like hormones
in the body. These dioxins can
cause disruptions in both human
and animal systems, especially in
children, even when used in
small amounts.

Resources Appendix VIII

• UVM Master Gardener

Help Line:

• Lake Champlain Sea

Grant Program

• Friends of Burlington Gardens



• Lake Friendly Gardening Series. Vermont and New York

Master Gardeners. February 2001. www.uvm.edu/
• Low P, No P and “Lake Friendly” Fertilization Programs for
Lawns. Sid Bosworth, UVM Extension. May 2004.
• Urban Pesticides: From the Lawn to the Stream.
Watershed Protection Techniques. 2 (1):247-253.
• Nutrient Movement from Lawn to Stream. Watershed
Protection Techniques. 2(!) 239-246.
• Insect Parasitic Nematodes for Turf grass. Dr. Parwinder
Grewal, Ohio State University. 2002.
• Clean Waters: Starting in Your Home and Yard Series.
Connecticut Sea Grant Extension Program. December
1999– June 2000.
• Organic Lawn Care. Paul Sachs. Chelsea Press. Vermont.

Guide to lake-friendly lawn care and grounds keeping

Published September 2004 by:

Lake Champlain Sea Grant
University of Vermont Extension
317 Aiken Center
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405-0088
(802) 656-0682

Project Supervisor:
Jurij Homziak, Executive Director
Lake Champlain Sea Grant

Research, Copy, and Design:

Daisy Williams, Research Coordinator
Friends of Burlington Gardens

Project Advisor and Editor:

Jim Flint, Executive Director
Friends of Burlington Gardens

This work was sponsored in part by a grant from the Cooperative State Research,
Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Inte-
grated Water Quality Program under award number USDA 00-51130-9775 (CFDA
10.303) and by the National Sea Grant College Program, National Oceanic and Atmos-
pheric Administration, US Department of Commerce, to Lake Champlain Sea Grant
under grant number NA16RG2206.

The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect
the views of the sponsors.