Spring into Action: Your Healthy Lake Lawn Reminder

Upgrade your lake shore landscape especially if it is rated as impaired.

Here is helpful advice from the Pigeon Lake Watershed Association

The International Plant Nutrition Institute offers free advice for all plants. Use the search box to request information for your landscape project.



A healthy-lake lawn is about the roots and healthy soil.
… and it can look good, be drought resistant and require less watering (once established).
It is the combination of healthy plants with deep roots and healthy soil that cleans the water going through the ground of pollutants including excess nutrients.  Recommended for all lawns.
People with large lawns are encouraged to opt for less lawn and more trees, bushes and native pollinators.

Have a Healthy-Lake lawn for your kids, pets, the watershed & the lake!


Grass needs are simple – sunlight, water, nutrients and some circulating air around their roots.
When the grass and the soil is naturally healthy, it can stay free from disease and bad bugs, and complete against unwanted plants.
If by water, lawns must not go beyond the top of the creek or shore bank and having some plants with deep roots at the top of the bank to filter the runoff is even better.
A mix of native grasses and healthy soil practices are recommended because this is better for the lake then the short roots on Kentucky Bluegrass which was put on most of the lots.


Grass needs are simple – sunlight, water, nutrients, and some circulating air around their roots. When the grass and the soil is naturally healthy, it can stay free from disease and bad bugs, and compete against unwanted plants.

Read more: http://www.townlife.com/world/Canada/Alberta/Pigeon%20Lake/641/Spring-Lawn-Care
Copyright © Pigeon Lake Watershed Association

Skip below to the 10 Healthy-Lake lawn Topics of Interest to You
  1. Lawn Chemicals
  2. Timing Considerations
  3. De-thatch and/or Aerate Your Lawn
  4. Consider Your Lawn Mower
  5. Maintain Your Lawn Mower – if you did not in the fall
  6. Best Mowing Practices
  7. Overseed Your Lawn with Native Seed Mixes
  8. Watering Your Lawn
  9. What to do with Lawn Patches Suffering from Winter kill
  10. How to Improve Poor Soil

1.  Lawn Chemicals
If you have not stopped using chemicals on your lawn, please stop.  Pesticides and herbicides do not distinguish between the good life in the soil and the bad.  The unused chemicals wash off the lawn and harms the precious shoreline and those that go into the lake harm the life in the lake.

Be patient.  If you have been using lawn chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, it can take 2 or 3 years to regain the health of the lawn/soil and yes, it is worth it for the lake to do what is better for the lake while still enjoying some lawn, if having a lawn is important for you.  See below How to Improve Poor Soil.

2.  Timing Considerations
Leave the debris around the outer edges of the lawn and at the base of plants until mid-May.  Many people like to “clean up” in April / early May, yet many good bugs (such as lady bugs who eat aphids), begin life in the collections of leaves and debris at the base of trees and bushes. Generally they mature enough to move on around the May long weekend.

3. De-thatch and/or Aerate Your Lawn
De-thatching is to scratch the surface; collect any clumps of extra dead material on the lawn; and to break up the dead material so it does not create a barrier for meeting its needs.

Get rid of the old matted grass (thatch) either yourself or hire a local lawn service. .The old bamboo rakes, are great for this job. It is recommended to put a layer of duct tape across the top towards bamboo tines to reinforce them. Alternatively, for a big lawn you could use a de-thatching machine (also known as a power rake). These should only be used a lawn when it is dry.

What you rake up is a perfect base ingredient for compost. If you do not have a compost, we encourage you to start one.  Check out: Making Compost – Black Gold for Your Organic Garden a good ‘How To’. Aged, brown organic materials support fungi; fresh green organic materials support bacteria. We recommend only composting green and brown plant-based materials.

Aeration – Consider hiring a local firm to aerate your lawn especially if your lawn care included synthetic or harmful chemicals (e.g. fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides). Once your soil is healthy, the microbes will aerate the soil although the high traffic areas often still need to be aerated.
a. Allows air, nutrients and water to get down to the grass roots.
b. Helps to reduce the soil compaction. “Weeds” will often out-compete the grass in areas of compacted soil.

4.  Consider Your Lawn Mower
Use a mulching mower to return the nutrients in leaf litter back to your soil. They are a great source of natural nutrients. Note: If dandelions have gone to seed – pick up the mulch when you mow or you spread the seeds.

Push mowers are not the old clunkers from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  Now, there are light, easy to use push mowers – no noise, no gas, no on-going cost, never bother your neighbours, safe and fun to use. Some gas mowers can pump as much carbon-dioxide into the air as a car travelling 20 kilometers. However, not recommended for grass higher than 3.5 inches.

5.  Maintain Your Lawn Mower – if you did not in the fall
Clean your mower of old caked on grass to help ensure that you do not  pick up and distribute any disease.  Sharpen the blades. It is better for the grass to have clean cuts.

6.  Best Mowing practices
Cut grass at 2-3” high to crowd out weeds, encourage longer roots and to shade the soil.
Leave some of the short grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and become a natural lawn fertilizer.
Leave 2/3 of the grass when cutting. More than 1/3 of the grass at a time is hard on grass to lose a lot of its photosynthesizing ability all at once.
Vary your mowing pattern from one mowing to the next.

7.  Overseed Your Lawn with Native Seed Mixes
If your lawn is mostly Kentucky Bluegrass, it is more like cement than than the absorbing surface that the lake needs.  Please consider moving to low maintenance, drought tolerant native grass by overseeding with native grasses.

WHAT SEED?  We recommend a mix of seeds.  The PLWA Seed Mix is: Sheeps fescue, Fowl Bluegrass, Alpine Bluegrass, June Grass and Western Wheatgrass.  Creeping Red Fescue, Tall Fescue and Ryegrass are also good. We also recommend adding 5% clover (See How to Improve Poor Soil below)

BTW, Crab grass is not a native grass – it is a weed .Native grasses do not look like crab grass.

WHY? Kentucky bluegrass has a very short root system so does little to clean the water runoff and requires more nutrients and water to look good.  So please, no more than 10-20% Kentucky blue grass is recommended.

WHERE TO GET?  The PLWA brings packages of a great seed mix to the Mulhurst Farmer’s Market (Thursday evenings), the Lakedell Farmers’ Market (Friday evenings) and the Ma-Me-O Craft Fair (Sunday).  Apache Seeds in Edmonton also has a similar mix.

  • New Lawns: 225 g/50 m2 (500 ft2)2016-07-14 Native Grass 01
  • Overseeding:  225 g/150 m2 (1,500 ft2)

HOW?  De-thatch and/or aerate so that the seed can get down to the soil to germinate.  If you do not you may simply be feeding the birds.(See #3 above). Sprinkle the seed as evenly as possible over the area using the ratios above.
Water.  The seed needs water to germinate.  Ideally, water every day for at least 2 weeks..

It can take 2-3 years of overseeding, ideally in the spring and fall to convert a lawn to native grasses.

8.  Watering Your Lawn
Water deeply & infrequently – LONGER GRASS = DEEPER ROOTS = LESS WATERING – Better for the Lake!
Once established the native grasses are drought resistant although ideally it would rain once a week for no more than one hour and not on weekends!
For stretches of dry weather, infrequent thorough watering encourages deeper roots. Only water the equivalent to 2.5 cm (1”) of water once a week. Frequent light watering encourages shallow roots and leaves the grass vulnerable to insects and disease. Water slowly for better absorption.

9.  What to do with Lawn Patches Suffering from Winter kill
Rake the area taking off the dead grass.
Overseed with our recommended seed mix (see above and recommended products list).
Top-dress with compost.
Water everyday for a couple weeks..

10.  How to Improve Poor Soil

The soils’ web of life involves complex and highly organized sets of interactions and processes among plants, insects, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and other nifty soil microbes.
These beneficial organisms exist in symbiosis with plants. Most vegetables, annuals, and grasses do best in bacterially dominated soils.

Clover:  Consider adding dutch or white clover to your lawn. The clover fixes atmospheric nitrogen to the soil. Clover use to be added to lawn mix because it is a good companion for grass. Have at least 5% of the lawn in clover.

Compost your Nutrients  Use a mix of “browns” (old leaves and dead grass) and “greens” from your kitchen.
Please also read the ‘Landscaping Section” of the Clean Runoff Action Guide.
About 3 pages in is more information on lawns, chemicals, composting and some references.

Acknowledgement: Pigeon Lake Watershed Association.

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