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Season: Spring

  1. Fertilizing

    New research shows that lawns need less fertilizing.
    Follow these tips to get great results at a lower cost to you and our environment.

    Do a soil test

    • You don’t know what your lawn needs without one!

    Fertilizer basics

    • Unless you have a soil test that identifies a need for phosphorus and potassium, all you need is nitrogen. Look for 10-0-0 on the bag (cornmeal gluten is a good choice).
    • For free fertilizer, always return the clippings to your lawn.
    • If an unfertilized lawn is acceptable, then don’t fertilize!

    Older lawns – 10+ yrs old

    • Lawns older than 10 years need only clippings.
    • If fertilization is deemed necessary, start with 1/3 of the amount recommended on the bag label, monitor the lawn, and apply more only if the lawn needs it. Don’t apply more than 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet.

    New lawns – under 10 years old

    • Younger lawns need nitrogen.
    • Start with 1/3 of the amount recommended on the bag, monitor the lawn, and apply more only if the lawn needs it up to a total of 2 pounds per 1000 square feet.

    When should I fertilize?

    • The best time to fertilize is between August 15th and September 15th.
    • Grass needs to be growing to take up fertilizer.

    Use slow-release organic fertilizer

    • Improves soil health and fertility.
    • Slowly releases nutrients so they feed your lawn, not our streams, rivers, and groundwater.
    • Most come from sustainable, renewable resources.
    • Look for corn meal gluten, a byproduct from milling corn. It’s a great source of Nitrogen for your lawn!

    Notes on synthetic fertilizers

    • Derived from natural gas, a nonrenewable resource.
    • Many contain soluble nitrogen that can wash into rivers and streams, wasting your time and money.
    • If you do use synthetic fertilizer, look for slow-release nitrogen. Using slow-release nitrogen helps ensure that your lawn’s root system takes in the nutrients before they wash away.

    Other tips

    Annotation 2019 09 25 141141

    Credit: Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District.
    Learn more at:

  2. Common Weeds

    Chickweed (annual)

    Appearance: Mat forming; pairs of yellowish green leaves on trailing, slender stems
    Soil Indications: Low calcium, phosphorus; high nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, organic matter
    Removal: Pull by hand; overseed with grass seed late in the summer before weed reestablishes

    Crabgrass (annual)

    Appearance: Coarse textured, yellow-green grass with reddish, branched stems
    Soil Indications: Low calcium, phosphorus; high nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, organic matter
    Removal: Pull by hand; overseed with grass seed late in the summer before weed reestablishes

    Broadleaf Plantain (annual)

    Appearance: Broad oval, leaves in a rosette; stock rising from the center; deep taproots
    Soil Indications: High calcium, potassium, phosphorus; poor drainage; hardpan; acidic
    Removal: Add lime, compost, compost tea; dig deep, aerate with a core aerator

    Curly Dock (perennial)

    Appearance: Often confused with dandelion; long serrated leaves; taproot
    Soil Indication: Low calcium, bacteria; pH; high phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, poor drainage
    Removal: Add calcitic lime, compost, compost tea, dig by hand

    Chicory (perennial)

    Appearance: Leaves resembling dandelions at base, deep taproots
    Soil Indications: Low calcium, nitrogen, hummus; high potassium, sulfur, anaerobic
    Removal: Add calcium, nitrogen, compost, compost tea, dig deeply to get full root system

    Creeping Charlie (perennial)

    Appearance: Low-growing, creeping plant with scalloped leaves and small, purple flowers
    Soil Indications: Low nitrogen, bacteria; high calcium, iron, sulfur; poor drainage
    Removal: Add nitrogen, compost, compost tea; dethatch

    Hawkweed (perennial)

    Appearance: Bright orange and yellow flowers on leafless stems; also called Indian paintbrush
    Soil Indications: Low calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, hummus, bacteria, pH
    Removal: Add calcium, nitrogen, compost, compost tea, calcitic lime

    Violet (perennial)

    Appearance: Common ground cover with heart shaped leaves; purple or white flowers in the spring
    Soil Indications: Low calcium, pH
    Removal: Add calcitic lime; hand remove as much of root system as possible

    Credit: Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District.
    Learn more at:

  3. Rain Barrels

    Managing roof runoff in your backyard.


    Rain barrels provide an innovative way to capture rainwater from your roof, and store it for later use. Water collected from rain barrels can be used to water lawns, gardens, and indoor plants. This water would otherwise run off your roof or through downspouts and become stormwater, picking up pollutants on its way to a storm drain, stream, or lake. You can lower your water bill, conserve well water in the dry season, and reduce polluted stormwater runoff.


    A rain barrel must be placed on a level surface. If you have gutters, place the rain barrel beneath the downspout so the water flows onto the screen on top of the barrel. You may need to have your downspout cut to an appropriate height above your rain barrel. If you do not have gutters, find a location where water concentrates from your roof and place the rain barrel where it will capture this steady stream of water during rain storms.

    Elevate your rain barrel by placing it on cinder blocks or a sturdy wooden frame. Raising the barrel allows the barrel to drain properly, and you to easily fit a watering can underneath the spout, or attach a hose so you can recover the rainwater you have collected. Soaker hoses can also be attached to the rain barrel to slowly release water into gardens and recharge groundwater.


    Rain barrels are available in many sizes and styles, and range in price from $80 to over $200. Contact your local hardware store, garden center, or nursery. You can also order rain barrels on-line from SkyJuice New England.

    Building your own rain barrel is usually the least expensive option. Several web sites exist with material lists and clear directions. Sites are as follows:

    Finally, you can simply use an open barrel to collect rainwater. Keep in mind that you should use the water within two weeks because the development of a mosquito from egg to adult takes 10 to 14 days.


    Gutters and downspouts should be clean of debris. Leaves and pine needles can clog gutters and prevent water from reaching the rain barrel. Furthermore, check the screen on the rain barrel after each storm event and remove leaves or pollen that has plugged the screen.

    Freezing water can damage your barrel. Rain barrels should be drained and stored before freezing weather sets in to prevent ice damage. They can be stored outside if they are turned upside down and the faucet is covered. Be sure to put something heavy on your rain barrel so it doesn’t roll away. Rain barrels can also be stored inside a garage or other protected area.

    Credit: Maine DEP, Portland Water District.
    Part of the Conservation Practices for Homeowners Factsheet series, available at:

  4. Compost Tea

    Applying compost tea is the most effective way to quickly transition to a safe, healthy, and self-sustaining lawn.

    What is compost tea?

    • Compost tea is compost that has “steeped” in room temperature water.
    • This process grows populations of beneficial microorganisms and suspends nutrients in water so that they are immediately available to the grass.

    The many benefits

    • Immediately greens up the lawn.
    • Improves soil health.
    • Protects against insects and disease.
    • It can be applied as often as you like without harming the grass or our water bodies.
    • The best way to transition a lawn from conventional methods to a natural system.

    When can you apply it?

    • Apply at least three times per year, early spring through late fall.
    • You do not need to consult your soil test results to apply compost tea. You can not damage your soil or your grass with fresh compost tea.

    Hire a lawn care professional

    • More and more professionals are using compost tea.
    • Some offer high-quality brews tailored to your soil’s needs.

    Home brewing?

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    1. Mesh bag or stocking
    2. High-quality compost
    3. 5-gallon bucket
    4. Aquarium pump & tube
    5. Siphon
    6. Garden hose & sprayer

    You can buy a kit from the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District.
    Call (207) 892-4700.

    Easy to Make

    1. Fill the mesh bag with high-quality compost.
    2. Nearly fill the 5-gallon bucket with water. (If on town water, let water sit for 24 hours so that the chlorine evaporates.)
    3. Sink the mesh bag of compost into the bucket of water.
    4. Place tube in water, feed through cover, and attach to pump. Turn on the pump.
    5. Brew for 24-36 hours. Aeration will brew the tea.
    6. Add a heaping tablespoon of molasses 2 hours before applying.

    Easy to Apply

    • You’ll need 1 quart of tea per 1,000 square feet of lawn, diluted with water.
    • Sink the siphon into a bucket and attach it to an outdoor faucet. Attach a garden hose to siphon and spray.
    • Use extra compost tea on shrubs, flowerbeds, and vegetable gardens.

    Credit: Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District.
    Learn more at:

  5. Using Water Wisely

    A healthy lawn needs water. How much you water and when you water can have an effect (positive or negative) on your lawn.

    Water is essential!

    • Without water, grass can’t grow.
    • Most perennial grasses will go dormant (turn brown) during dry spells. Brown grass is still very much alive and can survive for weeks until moisture returns.
    • However, allowing grass to brown will provide an opportunity for weeds to take root.

    How much water do I need?

    • Lawns need 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week during the growing season (May to October).
    • Buy a rain gauge – they are inexpensive and are available at local hardware stores.
    • Monitor rainfall and only apply what is needed to equal 1 to 1.5 inches of water.
    • Watering too much wastes time and money and creates an insufficient root structure.

    How often should I water?

    Annotation 2019 09 25 133559

    • Only once or twice a week (depending on the rain).
    • If you water twice a week, be sure to only apply half of the lawn’s weekly needs (0.5 to 0.75 inches at each watering).

    Water deeply, not quickly.

    • If you’ve been mowing high, then your lawn’s root system has grown deep and strong.
    • Allowing water to seep into the ground will help the grass stay healthy.

    When should I water?

    • Between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. is ideal.
    • The afternoon is too hot and sunny, most of the water will evaporate.
    • Watering at night increases the risk of fungal diseases

    Tip: Determine your sprinkler output by placing jars on the lawn and timing how long it takes for them to fill with an inch of water.

    Credit: Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District.
    Learn more at:

  6. Planting Using Buffers


    Vegetated buffers are trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants that catch sediment and other pollution before they reach lakes or streams. Trees and shrubs intercept raindrops and reduce their impact on the soil. Low-growing plants and the “duff” layer on the ground filter runoff. Root systems hold soil in place and absorb water and nutrients. In addition, buffers can enhance privacy, filter noise and wind, and attract birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.


    Select plants suitable to the growing zone, light, and soil conditions of the planting area. Ideally, native plants should be selected since these are better adapted to local conditions, fit in with the natural landscape, and do not require fertilizers or pesticides. Also, the most effective buffers should be as wide as possible and include a mix of trees, shrubs, and ground cover plants. Fall and spring are ideal planting times, but anytime during the growing season is acceptable. Plant as described below (from

    1. Water the plant while it is still in its container. Dig a hole 2 times the width of the container and as deep as the soil level in the container.
    2. Remove the root ball from the container and loosen the outside layer of the root system either by scoring with a knife or pulling by hand.
    3. Set the plant in the middle of the hole. The top of the root ball should be at or slightly above normal ground level. If not, remove the plant and adjust the hole. Keep in mind that planting too deeply can kill the plant.
    4. Backfill 2/3 of the planting hole with soil. If the original soil is very poor and the plant requires better soil conditions, mix in no more than 25% loam and/or compost with the original soil.
    5. Fill the planting hole with water. This will result in a “moat” around the soil ball. When this drains completely, re-fill with water again.
    6. After the water has drained, backfill the rest of the hole to ground level and gently press the soil down to remove air pockets. Next, form a circular mound of soil around the planting hole. Formation of this “ring” around the hole will help future watering and rain sink into the ground.
    7. Water thoroughly once more to remove any remaining air pockets.
    8. Place no more than 2” to 4” of mulch around the plant, but keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk or branches emerging from the root ball. Cover leftover bare soil with additional mulch or move to areas where it will not erode into the lake.


    Plants and bags of compost and loam can be purchased from local nurseries.


    Year One

    Deep, weekly watering is a must during the first year of planting. Most plants that die in the first season do so because of inadequate watering. Make sure that the water reaches the depth of the root ball. The “ring” around the plant helps the water sink into the ground instead of running off. Planting areas can be weeded but should not be raked.

    After One Year

    After the first year, you should only need to water if there is a lack of normal rainfall. Once the plants are well established, you can let the planted area naturalize so that you do not need to replenish mulch or weeds. The “duff” layer of leaves and pine needles will serve as natural mulch.

    Applying Fertilizer

    If plants appear to be growing well, they should not require fertilization. Fertilizers can actually harm newly developing roots, and summer/fall applications can prevent shrubs and trees from hardening off in time for winter. Shrubs and trees should only be fertilized in early spring and only after a soil test has been performed.


    You can save money by transplanting native plants into your buffer area. Keep in mind, however, that the mortality rates of transplants are relatively high. Here are some general transplanting guidelines:

    • Make sure to ask for landowner permission before harvesting, and do not take too many plants from any one area. Do not remove plants next to lakes or streams.
    • Transplant in the early spring or late fall when the plants are dormant. This reduces trauma to their root systems.
    • Choose sturdy-looking plants. Dig up the root ball as much as possible (extend your digging area at least to the width of the plant’s branches.) Once your transplant has been replanted, water frequently until well established.

    Credit: Maine DEP, Portland Water District.
    Part of the Conservation Practices for Homeowners Factsheet series, available at:

  7. Ants

    Ants are a natural part of a healthy lawn ecosystem. You should be concerned with keeping them out of your house but not out of your lawn.

    Ants are your lawn’s friend!

    Ants prey on the larvae of flies and fleas and naturally aerate soil. They should only be considered a problem if they are getting into your house or if they are European Fire Ants, which sting.

    Control Methods

    • Pour hot, soapy water into the nest. This will kill some of the ants and force others to relocate.
    • Sprinkle cornmeal around your home. Eating cornmeal will make ants thirsty, and they will drink water until they burst.
    • Use diatomaceous earth or boric acid dust to dehydrate and kill them. Caution should be used with these substances, especially if anyone in your family has lung problems. Be sure to follow all safety instructions that come with the product.
    • If you discover an indoor nest, spread corn meal, then use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to capture as many ants as possible. Seal and dispose of the bag immediately.

    Keeping Ants Outside

    To keep ants from moving into your house, there are a variety of things you can try:

    • Use silicone caulking to seal cracks and crevices that could provide access. Check around baseboards, moldings, pipes, outlets, ducts, sinks, toilets, etc.
    • Keep the kitchen as clean as possible. Any food that is not sealed in an airtight container or in the fridge could attract ants.
    • Clean up all spills right away, bring compost outside daily, and store garbage in airtight containers.
    • Ants could be attracted to pet food as well, so don’t leave pet dishes out and full of food constantly.
    • Replace rotten wood and keep moist areas well-ventilated to deter carpenter ants from establishing colonies.


    Controlling ants with pesticides is not recommended for a couple of reasons, in addition to the health issues associated with pesticides in general.

    • About 95% of ants never leave the nest, so if you use pesticides to kill the ones that are foraging for food, you’ll only be killing 5% of the total population.
    • Using pesticides on indoor nests has been shown to cause the colony to split and establish two completely separate nests, doubling your problem.

    Credit: Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District.
    Learn more at:

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