From the SLA: Landscaping for lake quality
By Terry Hoffmann-DeWitt, Rachael DeWitt and Kathy Gorr
We’re hearing a lot of information about the quality of our beautiful lake, and people are asking ‘What can I do?’ Well, a sub-group of the Skaneateles Lake Association has formed to focus on providing those answers for you. And the amazing thing is we don’t have to create the information. It’s already been done for us by qualified people and organizations. So the answer is ‘You can take this knowledge and do a lot.”
In the coming months, we will publish a number of articles which will cover 1) the role of phosphorus and nitrogen and landscaping with native trees and shrub plants to improve lake quality, 2) the Cornell Cooperative Extensions’ master gardener program, 3) contact information on local resources, 4) questions for a professional landscaper (with answers), 5) preparing for Spring and 6) environmentally friendly substitutes for harmful, invasive, non-native landscaping plants. This article will focus on the role of phosphorus and nitrogen and the benefits of planting trees, shrubs and groundcover that are native to our area, which can act as filters for unwanted elements entering the lake.
Phosphorous and Nitrogen: Phosphorus in the form of phosphates is a powerful fertilizer which feeds algae. Nitrogen is similar to phosphorus in that it also feeds microscopic plants and aquatic plants. These two nutrients exist in the lake and are generally limited in quantity. But when these nutrients are present in large amounts, typically from septic systems, lawn fertilizers, agricultural runoff and additional organic material in the lake such as raked leaves and when other conditions are right (hot weather and calm waters) they create an environment that allows algae to grow out of control with the potential of producing toxic and harmful effects on people, animals and aquatic organisms.
Fertilizers containing phosphorus should not be used on your lawn. Take the time to read fertilizer labels. The DEC advises to ‘Look for the Zero’ and purchase phosphorous-free products. New York State law requires retailers to post signs notifying customers of the terms of the law and to display phosphorous fertilizer separately from those that are phosphorous free. Be sure to look at the bag label for the phosphorous content. The label should list a series of numbers and a lake friendly fertilizer might look something like this “5-0-5.” The first number is the nitrogen percentage, the second number is the phosphorous percentage (which should be 0) and the third number is the potassium/potash percentage. Low numbers are good. You can decide to go chemical free. Lawns don’t need fertilizers, pesticides or weed killers to look great. Organic lawn care is possible and safe and effective alternatives exist for most products containing chemicals for pesticides and fertilizers. These products promote deep root systems, natural photosynthesis and longer grass growth. These alternatives can be found on the DEC’s Lawn Care web page. Visit www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/8816.html. Also, allowing lawns to grow native flowers such as snowdrops, forget-me-nots, violets, trout lilies and tiny daisies brings a whole dimension of flora and fauna beauty to your lawn.
Trees, shrubs and ground cover: These provide excellent defenses against pollutants entering the lake. There are other pollutants besides phosphorous and nitrogen such as an overload of soil, branches and other sediments containing nutrients. If you plant a riparian buffer along streambeds or along shorelines using native plants, the volume, velocity and timing of surface runoffs have a chance to slow or even be completely absorbed before it enters our lake.
Native plants: Native plants work well because they are already adapted to our local environmental conditions (like soil and insects), they require less water (which conserves a natural resource), create a habitat for birds and other wildlife, they don’t need fertilizers or pesticides and they prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species.
Cornell Cooperative Extension has an extensive list of trees and plants. Some examples are birch, serviceberry, dogwood, willow, ash, maple, fern, elderberry, sumac, elm, chestnut, blackberry, huckleberry, milkweed, lobelia, and coneflower to name a few.
There are a number of native plant nurseries locally who can provide even more information and are worth checking out. Here are a few to consider: The Plantsmen Nursery in Lansing, White Oak Nursery in Canandaigua, Nannyberry in Fulton and Amanda’s Garden in Dansville. Another excellent source for native plant sales and programming is Baltimore Woods in Marcellus. The Finger Lakes Native Plant Society in Ithaca is another excellent organization dedicated to promoting native flora.
Retention Ponds: If you have a large amount of acreage, you might consider putting in a retention pond. These ponds are situated in a low-lying area that is engineered to temporarily hold a set amount of water while the water slowly drains into another location. Retention ponds limit the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen entering the lake. They also reduce the chances of flooding.
Learn More: You can learn more about landscaping for lake quality. We recommend a publication of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, “Introduction to Organic Lawns and Yards” and CCE’s “Landscaping for Water Quality in the Finger Lakes Region.” CCE’s contact information is 315-424-9485, cce.cornell.edu/onondaga.
Look for additional articles we plan to publish relating to Landscaping for Lake Quality as well as an upcoming workshop. Save the Date – Tuesday Oct. 23 7 p.m. Skaneateles High School. SLA and CCE are collaborating on Landscaping for Water Quality with Landscape Architect Matt Biondolillo and Native Plant author and dendrology professor at ESF – Don Leopold.
Through responsible landscaping and soil maintenance, you can make a real difference in the health of our waters.
Please thank the following for co-supporting the Milfoil Boat for a day or multiple days: Elizabeth & Evan Dreyfus, Kimberly & William Gilberti, Jane & Thomas Hanley, Jack Rudnick, Janice & Richard Wiles, Elaine Palmer, Theresa & Jim Reed, Anonymous Donor.
Please thank the following for sponsoring the Milfoil Boat for a day: Gwen Birchenough, Alexandra & Richard Nicklas
Please thank the following for their contributions to the David Lee Hardy Fund which supports our Invasive Species Monitoring Stewards: Stacey & Steven McClintic.
Every single membership counts. This past month we wrote to over 200 members who had joined the SLA some year or years between 2011 and 2016, but who had not joined in 2017 or 2018. If those 200 were to join for 2018 we could reach a membership of 1000 households and that would be great. We look for each of them and each of or 2017 members to join for 2018. You can join the SLA online at SkaneatelesLake.org or call 315-685-9106 and ask for a membership form to be mailed to you. It may be too cold for some to jump in and swim, but you can jump in and join the SLA today.