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Healthy Soils, Healthy Streams

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 excess runoff that goes directly to local streams. This may sounds dysfunctional. It is! When it comes to lawn care, the focus is usually the “greeness” and thickness of grass above ground with little focus on the soils beneath. Healthy soils will result in healthier turf grass with less runoff and water pollution.

What is Soil Health?

Soil health 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. Viewing soil as a living thing 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.

Lawn Care and Soil Health Educational Campaign

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. They offer soil testing for a minimal fee. Contact AgSource for details. After the sample is sent to the lab and analyzed the lab will provide you with an interpretation of the results and recommended fertilizer application rates.

AgSource Soil Testing Healthy Soils

Become an Urban Watershed Steward

Lawncare companies in Iowa can become recognized for their committment to water quality through this campaign. Lawncare companies can offer their clients the opportunity to assess their soil fertility prior to the application of fertilizers. ISWEP has partnered with AgSource Laboratories to test soils for a variety of components, such as nitrates 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:

  1. Provide and conduct soil sampling services for your clients before fertilization. Adjust fertilization rates based on the results.
  2. Soils should be rechecked every 3 years.
  3. Use only phosphorus-free fertilizers unless establishing a new lawn or the soil testing results indicate that phosphorus is needed.
  4. Sweep up excess fertilizer from sidewalks, driveways and streets.
  5. Keep a buffer zone near water bodies and ponds where fertilizers are not spread.