PLATTSBURGH — It hasn't been easy persuading springtime to invade this year, but warmer weather will show up eventually.With rising temperatures, sunny skies and just the right amount of April showers, North Country residents will soon be turning their attention to lawns that have been buried by snow for what seems to be an eternity.But, as they look at what needs to be done to bring their lawns back to life, residents should also keep in mind the impact their actions will have on the environment around them."There's a big effort this spring to make a connection between lawns and the lake," said Amy Ivy, director for the Clinton County Office of Cornell Cooperative Extension."We're trying to help people find easy ways to care for lawns without making more problems for the lake."
An extensive public-education push by Cooperative Extension called "Don't 'P' on Your Lawn" has emphasized the problems phosphorus can have on lakes, rivers and other waterways.Phosphorus is a nutrient that promotes the growth of algae and other aquatic plants. In Lake Champlain, high levels of phosphorus have been blamed for increasing amounts of large algae blooms.Phosphorus comes from many sources, including urban and agricultural runoff and wastewater-treatment systems but can also be found in fertilizers for lawns and gardens. That is where Cooperative Extension is focusing a lot of its efforts this spring.
Ivy said people don't need to use fertilizer with high levels of phosphorus, noting that grass grown from seed can benefit from phosphorus, but mature lawns rely more on higher levels of nitrogen.Fertilizers are labeled with three numbers, representing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, respectively. Homeowners should look for fertilizers with a "0" as the middle number, Ivy suggested.She also suggests that people wait until early fall to fertilize their lawns. At that point, grass has a stronger root system and will absorb more than at other times of the year.If homeowners want to fertilize in the spring, they should wait until late May, when the grass has had time to strengthen its root system, she added.
An even more important step in having a healthy lawn throughout the season is maintaining a proper height for the grass."The taller the grass plant, the bigger the root system," Ivy explained."A plant with a bigger root can tolerate stress and make it through drought much more easily" than grass with weakened roots because it has been cut too short.Grass that is allowed to grow longer will also out-compete weeds, she added.In test studies conducted by Cooperative Extension, a lawn with three-inch grass had significantly fewer dandelions growing than a lawn with two-inch grass."By being taller, thicker, weeds don't have a place to get started," she said.Mower blades should be adjusted to cut lawns at three inches, and lawns should be allowed to grow to about 41/2 inches. That will allow lawns to stay greener throughout the year and will actually mean that people will have to mow less often than if they clip their lawns two inches or shorter.Ivy also suggested leaving clippings on the lawn to act as a natural fertilizer."Everybody lives in a watershed, whether it's Lake Champlain or another system," she said."What we do can impact the lake. We can take steps that will make a difference" in keeping the lake healthy.