Keuka Lake Book
Landscaping and Gardening
Watershed residents may not realize that rain falling on homes, lawns and driveways in the watershed eventually ends up in the lake, often carrying pollution with it. Proper landscaping is one activity to help reduce the erosive force of runoff and attached pollutants.
Some activities can unintentionally change the volume, velocity, and timing of surface runoff that flows from a property. Everyday activities can add to the amount of toxic chemicals and nutrients that flow into the lake. As the volume of runoff increases, so does the danger of surface flooding. Runoff also increases soil and channel erosion and delivers more sediment to the lake.
If everyone follows a few simple procedures, they could retain more rainwater on their properties, replenish groundwater supplies, reduce their reliance on household chemicals and fertilizer, and improve lake quality.
Planting trees can protect private property and the lake from damage caused by excessive runoff and erosion. People appreciate trees for their beauty and the shade they provide, but few realize that trees help reduce runoff and minimize erosion. Planting shrubs, trees and ground cover has many environmental benefits, and enhances the appearance and value of watershed properties.
Plants can block cold winter winds and provide shade in summer. Well planned landscaping can reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 30 percent. Shrubs and trees may attract birds and wildlife and require less maintenance than grass. Because they require less fertilizer and fewer herbicides than grass, there is less chance of polluting the lake.
Choosing Appropriate Plants
All plants require soil, nutrients, water, and exposure to the sun to flourish. The most common mistake people make when landscaping their yards is to buy plants that need much more or far less moisture than the native soil provides. Plants that need a lot of water will not grow well on dry sites unless you supply the water they need. Plants with high nutrient requirements will only grow in poor soils if you apply additional fertilizer. Plants susceptible to insect and disease problems will flourish only when these pests are controlled by some biological, chemical, or mechanical means. Choosing plants appropriate to the property conditions can reduce inputs and maintenance costs.
Fortunately, nature has given us a partial solution to the problem of plant selection. Over time, plants native to a particular locale have adapted to the growing conditions they encounter. Plants that grow near the shore have adapted to the air and or soil moisture through a variety of physiological mechanisms. Plants that grow naturally in the forests of our region are bothered less by common disease and insect problems than are plants introduced from other areas. Ask a competent, professional nursery to help you select plants, trees and shrubs appropriate for your yard and soil type.
Healthy Lawns - Most people want a dense, healthy lawn. A healthy lawn not only makes your home more attractive and valuable, but it also has important environmental benefits. When combined with trees, shrubs, and groundcover, a lawn can help prevent erosion, moderate summer heat, and act as a filter for rainwater from roofs, downspouts, and driveways. A healthy lawn also benefits the soil by adding organic matter to improve soil structure and infiltration. Local streams and the lake will benefit from the reduced runoff and filtering capacity provided by proper landscaping.
There are an estimated 20 million acres of lawn in the United States. Well managed and planted with shrubs and groundcover, lawns can be part of a healthy environment. If fertilizers and pesticides are used indiscriminately, lawns can be a source of pollution. The basic premise of environmentally sound turfgrass management is to maintain a vigorous stand of grass that will outcompete most weeds and be able to withstand damage from fungus and insects.
Test The Soil- To help ensure a healthy lawn, test the soil before seeding or applying fertilizers. Call the county Cornell Cooperative Extension office for assistance or purchase a soil test kit at a local garden store. The results of the soil test will tell you how much fertilizer and lime a soil requires. Compost, if mixed into the soil, can provide some of the organic matter and nutrients your soil needs. (See the composting section on pg. 23 for more information.)
Fertilizing the Lawn
The nutrients in fertilizers can contribute to pollution problems in the lake. That is why it is important to apply fertilizer according to instructions-at the proper time and rate- to prevent additional water quality problems. Avoid getting fertilizer on sidewalks and driveways, where it can easily be washed into storm drains and, eventually, into the lake.
The numbers on a bag of fertilizer refer to the percentages of plant nutrients-nitrogen, phosphates, and potash-in the material. In a 100-pound bag of a 5-10-10 mixture, for example, there would be 5 percent (5 pounds) nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate, and 10 percent potash.
The wrong amount of fertilizer applied at the wrong time can cause disease and weed problems, poor root growth, or excessive top growth. Incorrect fertilization can reduce a lawn's ability to withstand extremes of temperature and moisture. Use fertilizer specifically formulated for lawns. Garden fertilizers will generally not be suitable for a lawn.
Both weeds and insects are considered by most homeowners to be harmful to the lawn. However, 90 percent of the insects in your lawn are not harmful. Even a healthy lawn will have some weeds, which should not be a problem unless the turf becomes weakened and thin. For example, sheep sorrel is an indicator that the soil pH needs adjusting. Crabgrass can be effectively controlled with a preemergent herbicide.
Study the lawn before applying any herbicides or insecticides. If you suspect a problem, ask your local Cornell Cooperative Extension agent to help you identify the problem and determine whether special treatment is necessary. The preferred long-term strategy for a healthy lawn includes using sound management techniques, especially proper mowing and fertilization. Some aspects of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), especially hand weeding, can also help.
Occasionally, certain insect activity may reach a level where the use of an insecticide is considered. Careful spot application of insecticides may be necessary when high populations are discovered, if other control methods are not effective. Choose an insecticide that is least harmful to other creatures.
Watering and Mowing
Over-watering and mowing too closely are the most common mistakes a person can make with their lawn. Once a lawn is established, water it only during very dry periods, giving it only as much water as the soil can absorb. Moisten the soil to a depth of four to six inches, which means using about an inch of water. Avoid frequent shallow waterings on established turf. It causes shallow rooting, invites crabgrass invasion, and encourages disease. A lawn should be watered in the early morning hours. This will reduce the amount of water that evaporates due to the heat of the sun and decreases the chance of burning the lawn. Watering in the evening or after dark helps contribute to the growth of fungus and disease.
Mowing is also crucial to the health of a lawn. According to turf specialists, mowing height is probably the single most important factor in the formation of healthy turf. Bluegrass or fescue should be cut to a height of two to four inches in height and cut frequently enough that no more than a third of the leaf area is removed. Mulching mowers deposit chopped grass in the lawn, replenishing nutrients and adding organic matter to the soil.
Lawn Services - Lawn services are an increasingly popular alternative for lawn maintenance. Some companies operate on a mass-production basis, with a fixed number of treatments a year in which customers are given a standard mixture of fertilizer and pesticides to deal with problems that might occur. We recommend a lawn company that will customize its service to an individual's lawn needs.
Many of the lawn companies follow programs that have been prescribed by turfgrass specialists and use products that you can buy and apply yourself. Misuse of these chemicals can pose health risks to people, pets, and wildlife around your home. Herbicide misuse can cause damage to susceptible plants.
Many people enjoy growing their own vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs. By using the proper gardening techniques, plants will prosper, while preserving soil fertility, enhancing the absorption of rainfall, and protecting local streams from sediments and chemicals.
To get the most out of a garden, it's important to pick the right spot for planting. Choose a sunny location with good natural drainage. Plant the garden on a fairly level site. Avoid sloping areas and drainage channels, which let topsoil wash away during heavy rains.
Dealing With Slopes - If your garden is located on a slope you can use the same techniques farmers use on hilly fields to ensure food crops. Plant across the slope, not up and down the hill. This way, each row acts like a ridge (what farmers call contour planting) to trap rainfall. Contour planting prevents soil and plant nutrients from washing downhill. On long slopes, it's a good idea to leave strips of grass that also run perpendicular to the slope. This helps keep the rainwater and soil where it belongs by forcing runoff to slow down and soak in. These grass strips should be wide enough to allow easy access to your plants and vegetables.
Less Toxic Pest Control Products
When used according to label instructions, the four products listed below are less toxic to the environment than other commercially available products. The products are available at garden stores with large inventories.
Insecticide Soap- This natural soap destroys pest membranes. It is effective against aphids, mealybugs, white flies, scales, earwigs, rose slugs, crickets, spittlebugs, and many more.
BT (Bacillus thuringiensis)- BT is particularly effective against leaf-eating caterpillars. It kills them by paralyzing the digestive tract.
Milky Spore- Milky spore is a natural bacteria that kills the grub phase of Japanese Beetles. The milky spore actually remain alive in the soil, preventing new infestations for a few years.
Dormant Oil Sprays- Oil sprays can be used either during the dormant or growing season to control scale insects, red spider mites, mealybugs, and whitefly larvae on shrubs, evergreens, wood plants, fruit trees, shade trees, azaleas, roses, and other ornamentals.
Fertilizers are designed to supplement the nutrients already present in your soil. Test your soil for nutrient levels so that your know what your soil requires before you apply any fertilizer.
Too much fertilizer can damage roots, and the excess can reach your local stream and lead to water pollution problems. Avoid applying fertilizer on windy days or just prior to a heavy rain. For best results, always apply commercial fertilizers according to the directions on the bag.
Among the many ways you can control garden pests are to:
- Use pest-resistant flowers, plants, and vegetables whenever possible.
- Handle minor pest problems by hand weeding and destroying insects.
- Wrap tomato stems in aluminum foil to stop cut worms.
- Plant borders to repel insects.
- Encourage ladybugs, praying mantises, and other insects that eat garden pests.
- Use pesticides only when other methods have failed, and use them according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Seek expert advice if none of the above measures works. Your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office can help you.
Using Your Garden Wastes
Gardening creates wastes (vegetable garden debris, leaves, twigs and branches, etc.) that can be converted into a valuable resource by composting. Dumping these valuable and recyclable materials in a gully, stream, lake, or storm sewer endangers the health of the water for plants, animals and for people using it as a source of drinking water.
Yard wastes such as leaves and wood chips can be used as mulch. Adding mulch to a garden will conserve water, moderate soil temperature, and reduce weed growth. Eventually, nutrients within the mulch will be released, and the decomposed organic matter will improve soil structure. Grass clippings are best left on the lawn to recycle their plant nutrients directly back into the growing grass. Improved recycling or mulching lawnmowers are widely available today and do not contribute to thatch problems as is commonly believed.
Compost is the end product of organic decomposition and consists of a dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelly material that is made from decomposed yard and food wastes. It is estimated that as much as 20 percent of our yard and food wastes end up in the landfill. Instead of burying this material at a great expense ($80-100/ton), homeowners can easily produce a rich organic material that will help garden plants grow. Compost can loosen heavy clay soils by improving soil structure, aeration and water infiltration.
In sandy soils, compost will increase the water and nutrient-holding capacity. One pound of organic matter can hold up to seven pounds of water. The organic matter and its microbial populations will increase the soil's ability to hold and break down certain groups of pesticides. Soils rich in organic matter also provide a favorable environment for many beneficial organisms, such as insects, worms, and microorganisms.
What Can Be Composted - All organic materials are compostable. Large pieces of twigs, branches and the like, should be chipped or shredded into smaller pieces to speed up the breakdown process. Shredding leaves with a rotary mower is a good idea.
Herbicide treated grass clippings, if collected, should be composted until completely decomposed (possible up to a year) to eliminate potential secondary herbicide problems.
Diseased plant parts, as well as perennial weeds and weeds with seeds, should not be placed in a compost pile unless a large amount of organic matter is to be added at the same time. A large pile of properly managed decomposing biomass can provide high enough temperatures to kill weeds, seeds and pathogens.
How to Get Started - To get started composting, first decide where to locate your compost heap. The space requirement for a typical compost heap is three feet by three feet. The location should be away from waterways and wells. The site should be located in an area that has good drainage. If the drainage is good, a shady spot will keep the compost heap from drying out. If the drainage is poor, choose a sunny spot.
When installing a compost heap, you should consider enclosing the heap. This is not to say that you must use a container, but using one will help keep the heap neat, efficient and manageable. The heap should be covered to help control the dampness. The ideal dampness is about the same as a squeezed out sponge.
If you want to build your own compost heap, you can make one out of a three-foot square box made from wood and wire mesh. You can also use chicken wire, some types of snow fencing, or old wooden pallets set on end. A garbage can (with the bottom removed and holes drilled in the sides) is good for small composting purposes. Plans for constructing a compost bin are available from your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.
Once you have purchased or built your compost container, it's time to start composting. To do this, it is necessary to layer the materials in the container. Start with a layer of leaves or yard waste. Then add a layer of kitchen waste and grass clippings. Next add a layer of soil or some commercial compost or manure. This layer starts the process of decomposition. Continue layering the rest of the container the same way. You also need to turn the heap every so often (usually monthly) with a pitch fork or shovel to aerate the pile and mix the compost together. The more often the heap is turned, the faster you will have finished compost.
Compost is ready for use when the compost heap produces a material that is dark and crumbly. Bits and pieces of nut shells, egg shells and woody materials may still be identifiable. These can be removed by using a wire mesh screen to separate the finer from the coarser material.
The composted material can be used in a variety of ways including on your flower or vegetable garden. Mix the compost into garden soil to improve the soil structure, water retention, aeration, and nutrient content. Compost can also be used as a top dressing for lawns that need reseeding and for starting potted plants. It is not recommended that compost be used for a seed starting mixture because seedlings might be harmed by fungi or disease in the compost.
To many homeowners, pest control is synonymous with chemicals, and quick eradication is the goal. "Pesticide" is an umbrella term that includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides. Designed to kill "pests," this big family of chemicals can also be dangerous to human health and the environment. There is considerable controversy about the potential risks associated with pesticides. Some toxicologists believe that pesticides can trigger allergic reactions or cause chronic health problems. Others say that if used properly, pesticides pose no significant risks to human health unless a person is exposed to an intense amount either through a large exposure, such as a spill, or through small exposures over a long period of time, particularly if no protective clothing is used.
Pesticides first became an environmental issue for many people with the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring in 1962. Since then, the regulatory approach to pesticides has been changed by Congress, which amended the 1947 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in 1972. FIFRA gave the Environmental Protection Agency the job of reregistering all pesticides on the market. The reregistration process includes a detailed examination of data on safety as well as both short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) health effects. To date, about 120 of the 600 principal active chemical ingredients in commercially available pesticides have been registered. Therefore, it is not correct to assume that because a product is available in your local hardware or garden store, it has undergone the new environmental and health effects evaluation procedure.
Some pesticides that were once widely used have now been banned or severely restricted. These include DDT, chlordane, aldrin, heptachlor, dieldrin, lindane, silvex, and 2,4,5-T. If you have any of these products, check with the Cornell Cooperative Extension office about proper disposal.
Minimizing Pesticide Hazards
To minimize the potential hazards of pesticides, follow these guidelines:
- Read the label carefully. It is a violation of federal law to use a pesticide in a way that is not stated on the label.
- Buy only the quantity you will need.
- Wear any protective clothing specified on the label. Remember, the label is the law.
- Wash your hands immediately after applying the pesticide.
- Apply only the amount of pesticide specified on the label and only to the plants and areas listed in the instructions.
- Make sure people and pets are out of the area during application and until the spray has dried.
- Cover or remove exposed foods, fish tanks, and pet food and water dishes during and after application.
- Never apply near wells, streams, ponds, or marshes unless the instructions specifically allow for such use.
- Never apply to bare ground or eroded areas. When it rains, many pesticides bind tightly to the soil and can be carried along with sediments to storm sewers and streams.
- Don't apply if rain is forecast unless otherwise specified on the label. Some pesticides do need to be watered after application.
- Choose the least toxic pesticide. Those with the signal word "CAUTION" on the label are considered less toxic whereas the signal word "WARNING" indicates moderate toxicity. A label bearing the skull and crossbones is considered highly toxic.
Poisonings and environmental contamination have occurred where pesticides were stored improperly. To be safe, you should store unused pesticides in an area well away from living areas. The place you choose should have a cement floor, be well lit and well ventilated, insulated from temperature extremes, out of direct sunlight, and out of a child's reach. For example, a locked metal cabinet in your garage is usually a good storage place for pesticides. Always keep pest control products in their original containers with labels intact. Most pesticides stored under these conditions should remain effective for about two years, although this varies widely.
It can be extremely difficult to completely clean up an area when a pesticide has been spilled. For this reason, you should never store these products in the kitchen or other living areas.
If a pesticide leaks or is spilled in the garage, on the driveway, or other outdoor areas, do not hose down the spill. This will cause further contamination and may carry the pesticide to storm sewers or other water sources. The best way to clean a small spill is to:
- Surround the contaminated area with soil.
- Sprinkle sawdust, kitty litter, vermiculite, or some other absorbent material over the spill.
- Shovel or sweep the absorbent material into a sturdy plastic garbage bag and put it in the trash.
- Wear rubber gloves, long pants, and rubber boots while cleaning up to protect yourself from exposure to the chemicals.
- Keep pets and other people away.
- Wash down the area with a solution of water and bleach, ammonia, or a strong detergent if the spill is on an impermeable surface.
What to Do With Leftovers
Pesticides should never be buried in your yard, burned, or poured into storm drains or your toilet. Some pesticides and their containers release toxic fumes when burned or wetted, and sewage treatment plants do not use the kinds of microbes that would neutralize the pesticide's harmful effects. Septic systems can be harmed by pesticides as well. The best method for safely disposing of pesticides is to buy only as much as you plan to use within a two-year period, and to use them up according to label instructions.
Federal law now requires that pesticides made for home use be labeled as to the appropriate disposal method. Again, it is essential that you read the label carefully and follow its directions. Consult a Cornell Cooperative Extension agent for guidance in disposal of older pesticides with unreadable labels.