Healthy Lawn Care

Cut it High … Let it Lie!

  • 3” or more left on grass blades promotes root growth and shades out weeds
  • Thatch Layer - .5 to .75 inches
  • Roots - 3 - 6 inches long
Please view the Healthy Lawn Care Tips (PDF).

Healthy Lawn Checklist

  • Mulch your grass clippings. Let short clips fall back on the lawn. Clippings are a source of nitrogen, so fertilizer can be reduced by 25% or more. Clippings do not cause thatch!
  • Cut High. Leave 3 inches on the grass blade after cutting. Tall grass promotes root growth and shades out weeds.
  • Build Soil Organic Matter - to 5% or More. Healthy soil has 5% or more organic matter. The organic matter provides a natural reservoir of nutrients and holds water. To assess your soil, test for basic nutrients and organic matter every one to 3 years.
  • Don’t Guess…Soil Test! - April 2 - May 2011. To test your soil for nutrients, pH, and organic matter, purchase the MSU soil test kit at a participating retailer in April. You will receive the results plus fertilizer recommendation from MSU. Over-application of fertilizers can pollute rivers and lakes - and waste money.
  • Aerate Compacted Soil. Use a core aerator that removes finger-like plugs of grass and soil - or hire a professional service. Core aeration improves drainage and allows water and oxygen to reach grass roots.
  • Rake Compost Into the Lawn. Rake ½ inch of compost into an established lawn. Leave half of the grass blade exposed to sunlight and air. Compost adds microorganisms, nutrients and organic matter, helping to build soil fertility.
  • Water the Lawn to Minimize Stress. A green lawn in Michigan needs .5 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Don’t soak your lawn; watering should not produce puddles. Light, frequent watering which reaches the grass roots is recommended by Michigan State University. Lawn dormancy is a natural response to drought. However, some water may be necessary during an extended drought of more than a month.
  • Select Earth-Friendly Fertilizers. Look for the green label at participating retailers. For a list of recommended fertilizers and participating retailers, visit the website.
  • Fertilize in the Fall for Best Results. Do Not Fertilize Before May. Fall fertilization builds grass roots. Additional fertilizer before May is rarely needed. DO not spread fertilizer or week-and-feed products if the ground is frozen.
  • Don’t Waste Fertilizer. Measure the lawn area you intend to fertilize - but do not include garden and pavement areas in the calculation. Read the fertilizer bag label to determine the amount of fertilizer needed. Reduce the number of applications if clippings are left on the lawn or if the law is in partial shade.
  • Sweep Fertilizer from Paved Services. Fertilizer left on sidewalks and driveways can easily wash into storm drains, rivers, and lakes. Sweep fertilizer pellets back onto the lawn.
  • Mow Dry Leaves. In the Fall, mow dry leaves into the lawn. A shallow layer of leaf fragments will decompose quickly and contribute organic matter and nutrients to the system.
  • Leave a “No Fertilizer” Buffer Zone Near Lakes and Rivers. The recommended width for “no fertilizer” buffers is 20 to 25 feet or more, depending on the slope of the lawn. Instead of turfgrass, consider planting native grasses, tall wildflowers, and/or shrubs to trap pollutants and discourage Canadian geese.
  • Avoid Weed-and-Feed Combination Products. Combination fertilizer and weed control products often add unnecessary herbicides to the landscape. Herbicides pose a threat to animals, plants and insect beyond the intended weeds or pets. Spot-treatment or hand-digging of weeds are better approaches for the environment.
  • Practice IPM - Integrated Pest Management. Identify the weeds or insects of concern and select the least toxic control option. Read the label and follow directions - the label is the law. For information about healthy and environmental impacts of particular chemicals, telephone the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 800-858-7378.

Do You Use A Lawn Service?

Request the Healthy Lawn Care Program for Watershed Protection

A growing number of lawn services are offering this environmental option to their customers. For a list of endorsed companies, contact the Michigan Green Industry Association at 248-646-4992 or visit the website, section titled professionals/contractors.

This environmental lawn program includes the following components:
  • On-site consultation to address customer needs
  • Earth-friendly fertilizer
  • Fertilizer quantities of 2, 3, or 4 pounds per 1000 square feet, applied over the growing season
  • Insect and weed control options: no pesticides; spot-treat only; or one-time rescue operation
  • Advice to customer on mowing and watering practices
Some companies offer organic fertilizer while others use synthetic fertilizers for this program.