Rainwater is clean when it falls from the sky, but it often picks up fertilizers and pesticides when it washes over our yards. Much of this polluted stormwater eventually drains into the Root River, which empties into Lake Michigan. Keeping stormwater clean is important because much of the drinking water in the Village of Hales Corners comes from Lake Michigan. You can protect Village drinking water by following some simple lawn care practices.
The first tip is to test your lawn and garden soil once every three years to learn how much fertilizer it needs. You might be surprised to discover that your lawn has plenty of nutrients for good grass growth. Contact the UW Soil and Plant Analysis Lab for information on how to test your law and soil (608-262-4364).
If the results from your soil test indicate that supplemental nutrients are needed, choose a low phosphorus fertilizer product. With the exception of starting a lawn from seed, phosphorus will not help establish grass growth, but will cause dramatic weed growth in local waterways.
The next tip is to watch when you fertilize. The best time is late fall to help the grass establish healthy roots for winter survival. If you want to fertilize more than once a year, the next best time is in early June.
The final tip is to watch where you spread. Keep it on the lawn. Fertilizer spread over driveways, sidewalks, or int he street is headed to the Root River as soon as the next rain storm comes along.
Pesticides & Water Don't Mix
Pesticides make quick work of eliminating weeds and insects, but we do not want them in our drinking water. If you must use them, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions and do not fall prey to the old adage that if a little is good, more is better. If in doubt, contact the garden center where you purchased the pesticide or call the UW-Extension office in Milwaukee County (290-2400).
Ask yourself if you are applying pesticides and don't even know it. Many people who apply weed-and-feed fertilizer products think that they are just enriching their lawns with nutrients, but these combination products also contain pesticides. It is a waste of money and a potential water quality hazard to continue using these products after your yard is weed free. Once the weeds are gone, shift to a fertilizer-only product, preferably an organic fertilizer like Milorgranite, produced locally by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District. Remove occasional weeds by hand puling or by spot treating with a herbicide.