As World Water Day quickly approaches on Tuesday, March 22, now is the time to start thinking about how our lawn care practices affect local lakes.

Many landscapers and residents who manage lawns and other landscapes overuse chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and water. The “Lawn to Lake” program is working to improve awareness on this issue, and will be holding a “Natural Lawn Care for Landscape Professionals, Homeowner Associations, and Municipalities” workshop from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.

Lawn to Lake focuses on outreach to multiple audiences, including municipalities, landscape professionals, homeowners, master gardeners, teachers, retailers, and commercial property owners.

“We propose to change the practices of those responsible for the creation and upkeep of lawns and landscapes,” said Margaret Schneemann, a water resource economist for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, which is leading the project. “Not only can this benefit the health of our waters, but it can also open new markets for lawn and landscape companies, help municipalities save money while meeting sustainability initiatives, and reduce the chemicals and water required for lawn maintenance.”

Lawn to Lake is funded by a grant from the U.S. EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the three-year project aims to reduce the amount of toxins entering Great Lakes Basin waters. For this project, IISG has partnered with Safer Pest Control Project, Lake Champlain Sea Grant, and University of Illinois Extension.

“Our goal is to protect water quality in the Great Lakes by reducing the amount of pollution from fertilizers and pesticides. We can prevent pollution more easily than we can clean it up,” said Susan Ask, an IISG watershed specialist. “What we put on the land, winds up in the lake.”

Rachel Rosenberg, Safer Pest Control Project executive director, offers tips for maintaining a healthy lawn without over-relying on chemicals. She suggests that using organic fertilizers and leaving grass clippings on the lawn can help capture and deliver nutrients to the lawn, improving both soil and plant health. Also, mowing high will increase root strength and create healthy grass that better withstands drought.

During the March 23 workshop, the featured speaker will be Chip Osborne, president of Osborne Organics, who has more than 30 years of experience in the turf and horticulture industry. Participants can also choose between two specialized workshop tracks: “Implementing Natural Lawn Care on Your Property,” or “Running a Natural Lawn Care Business.” The event is co-sponsored by the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association and the Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association. The cost is $150, with lunch and a take-home binder with all program materials included. Discounts for groups and affiliated organizations are also available.

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