Healthy Soils, Healthy Streams
Your Lawn and Water Quality
Turf grass in Iowa’s communities makes up a significant land area. The soils beneath the turf, especially in newer, developed areas is highly disturbed and most often very unhealthy. As a result, many lawns are over fertilized and generate a lot of runoff that goes directly to local streams and carries fertilizers with it. This sounds dysfunctional. It is! When it comes to lawn care, the focus is usually on how green and thick the grass is above ground with little focus on the soils beneath the turf grass. Healthy soils will result in healthier turf grass with less runoff and water pollution.
What is Soil Health?
Soil health or soil quality, is the ability of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. It is also directly connected to local stream quality. Soil isn’t dead and it is not just “dirt”! It has billions of living and breathing bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that are part of a dynamic symbiotic ecosystem. Only “living” things can have health, so viewing soil as a living ecosystem reflects a fundamental shift in the way we care for our nation’s soils. Healthy, functional soils provide nutrients for turf grass and plants, they absorb and hold rainwater for use during dry periods, they filter and buffer potential pollutants from lawns, and provide habitat for soil microbes to flourish to sustain the ecosystem.
The Healthy Soils, Healthy Streams campaign aims to educate municipalities, residents, and lawncare companies about the connection between lawn management, soil health, and water quality.
ISWEP is partnering with AgSource, a soil testing laboratory in Ellsworth, Iowa, to offer soil testing free to a limited number of participants per member city and educational organization. A soil sampling kit is the primary deliverable provided to landowners, and includes: a free soil sample bag and mailer, free lab fee, lab results with soil fertility and health data, recommended fertilizer application rates, interpretation of results handout, and information about improving soil health through soil quality restoration of existing lawns.
Become an Urban Watershed Steward
Lawncare companies in Iowa can become recognized for their committment to water quality and utilization of stormwater pollution prevention best management practices. Through the Healthy Soils, Healthy Streams campaign, lawncare companies can offer their clients the opportunity to assess their soil fertility through soil sampling prior to the application of fertilizers. The Iowa Stormwater Education Partnership (ISWEP) has partnered with AgSource Laboratories out of Ellsworth, Iowa to test soils for a variety of components, such as phosphorus, nitrate, potassium, cation exchange capacity, pH, and organic matter. Lawncare companies may want to use AgSource for testing samples or another laboratory that analyses soil samples for lawns.
Urban Watershed Stewards adhere to the following policies:
- Provide and conduct soil sampling services for your clients before fertilization. Adjust fertilization rates based on the results.
- Soils should be rechecked every 3 years.
- Use only phosphorus-free fertilizers unless establishing a new lawn or the soil testing results indicate that phosphorus is needed.
- Sweep up excess fertilizer from sidewalks, driveways and streets.
- Keep a buffer zone near water bodies and ponds where fertilizers are not spread.