Backyard Conservation Lawn Care Practices

Warmer weather is here which means that we will be spending more time outdoors and more time managing our backyards. There are some simple things you can do that will help you follow backyard best management practices and improve the quality of our soil and water.

Lawns are an integral part of our urban landscape and play a vital role in protecting our soil and water resources. How we care for our lawn determines the degree of environmental benefits and impacts we achieve.

Here are some of the environmental benefits of grass:

  • Improves soil structure
  • Reduces stormwater runoff
  • Prevents soil erosion
  • Captures and filters rainfall
  • Replenishes groundwater
  • Cleans and purifies the air
  • Cools temperatures above the ground

Backyard conservation lawn care practices:

1). Mow high

2). Recycle lawn clippings and leaves

3). Conserve water

4). Provide nutrition


1). MOW HIGH– Taller grass is stronger grass. Set your mower at its highest setting (3-4″).

Myth: Low mowing reduces mowing frequency.

Fact: It results in MORE mowing.

Long grass vs. short grass




Recycling grass clippings– Returns nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and organic matter back to your lawn. Removing clippings depletes the soil of nutrients.

*Most lawn maintenance fertilizers are phosphorous-free. Recycling phosphorus (returning grass clippings to the lawn) is important.

Same benefits for leaf mulching-Leaves break down and supply organic matter and nutrients to your lawn. Mow (1-3) passes until leaves are chopped up to about the size of a dime. Grass mulching and leaf mulching do not contribute to thatch build-up.

Other benefits of recycling clippings and leaves:

  • Improves soil quality
  • Saves landfill space
  • Saves on the cost to send to a compost facility
  • Saves time and energy to rake and bag


CLEAN UP- Keep all nutrient sources-  grass clippings, leaves, compost and fertilizer- off of hard surfaces, such as driveways, sidewalks and patios. Sweeping up keeps nutrients from being washed into the sewer systems – which go into our waterways.


Long grass vs. short grass water absorption



It is important to note that most yards in the United States do not need supplemental irrigation.

Grass can go dormant:

  • Grass has a survival mechanism- going dormant-when moisture is scarce
  • If your lawn turns brown limit walking on it and don’t feed it
  • When the rain returns, the lawn should bounce back
  • If drought is unusually long in your region, give your grass a deep watering

Best practices when watering:

  • Think conservation when considering watering
  • Rely on normal rainfall for all or most of your yard watering
  • Water in the early morning to limit evaporation
  • If you use an irrigation system, use water saving controllers such as moisture sensors and rain sensors to limit unnecessary watering


Feeding your lawn- Grass, like any plant, needs nutrients to stay healthy. Some key nutrients include:

  • Nitrogen (N)- Growth, density and color
  • Phosphorus (P)- Plant vigor, seedling root and shoot growth
  • Potassium (K)- Drought tolerance, disease and stress resistance

Optimal time to feed your lawn- The best time to feed your lawn is when the grass is actively growing.

  • Warm-season grass- Grows during warm summer months
  • Cold-season grass- Grows during cool spring and fall months


This information is provided by the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company to help conservation districts team up with urban and suburban property owners to improve soil and water quality.

Drains to Streams

A storm sewer is designed to carry rainfall runoff and other drainage. It is not designed to carry sewage or accept hazardous wastes. The runoff is carried in underground pipes or open ditches and discharges untreated into local streams, rivers and other surface water bodies. Storm drain inlets are typically found in curbs and low-lying outdoor areas. Some older buildings have basement floor drains that connect to the storm sewer system. Disposal of chemicals or hazardous substances to the storm sewer system damages the environment. Motor oil, cleaners, paints and other common household items that get into storm drains can poison fish, birds, and other wildlife, and can find their way into drinking water supplies. In addition, grass clippings, leaves, litter, and organic matter can clog storm drains and cause flooding. Pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus in the grass clippings are especially harmful because they will be carried into creeks and streams which can cause algal blooms.

Here are some things you can do to help maintain our sewer systems and keep our environment clean:

  • Do not pour anything into storm sewer drains
  • Keep storm sewer drains clear of leaves, grass clippings, sticks and litter
  • Repair any leaks and drips from your vehicle
  • Collect and recycle motor oil
  • Clean up spills and don’t wash them into a drain

See the source image

See the source image

To learn more about what you can do to become a better water steward, please visit





Michigan Arbor Day Alliance Welcomed 1,000 Students to Potter Park Zoo to Learn About Trees for 2019 State Arbor Day Celebration

2019 crowdThe 2019 State Arbor Day Celebration was held on Friday, April 26, 2019 at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, MI. The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance, in cooperation with Eaton Conservation District and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Forest Resources Division, welcomed approximately 1,000 2nd and 3rd graders from Mid-Michigan to the all day outdoor event.

At the event, students, teachers and their chaperones rotated through activity stations where presenters talked about sustainable wood products, tree identification, forest pests and more. The other half of the day the students spent in the zoo, learning about wildlife. In between, during the noontime celebration, students were entertained by singer/songwriter Joe Reilly who performed songs such as “Outside” and “Decompose.” The kids danced and sang along to his fun songs that had an environmental message. After the noontime ceremony, the students watched a Bur oak be planted. All around it was a fun outdoor event filled with lots of learning. The students often leave Arbor Day talking about ways they can help better the environment and have a deeper appreciation for trees and nature.

2019 ceremony

Photo: students from Lyons Elementary learning how to plant a tree.

This annual event/field trip is offered to 2nd and 3rd graders in the state of Michigan at no cost. It is because of our generous donors and sponsors that we are able to provide this opportunity for the students, teachers and their chaperones to get outside and learn about our environment.

The sponsors, volunteers and presenters, along with the planning committee, make this event a great success each year.

THANK YOU to all that sponsored and donated to MADA:

2019 Sponsors:

Arboriculture Society of Michigan, Community Emergency Response Team, Consumers Energy, Eaton Conservation District, Forestry, Public Service- City of Lansing, ITC, Lansing Board of Water and Light Michigan Department of Natural Resources, MSU Federal Credit Union, Potter Park Zoo, Wheels to Woods Program, and Williams Farm Machinery.

consumers energy 2019.JPG

Photo: Consumers Energy, photo taken by Marianne Martin

2019 Partners and Donors: Ann Cool, Cottage Gardens, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Michigan Humanities Council, Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association, Potter Park Zoo, Wheels to Woods Program and Williams Farm Machinery.

We couldn’t have celebrated Arbor Day without help from many outstanding organizations and our volunteers! Michigan Arbor Day Alliance would like to say THANK YOU to everyone who supported us at our 2019 Arbor Day Celebration!!!

2019 Presenters: Harris Nature Center, Huron Pines AmeriCorp,  Sarah Bauer-Environmental Educator, Jackson Conservation District, JLW CISMA, MSU Extension, Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, Burke Lake Banding Station, Potter Park Zoo, Woldumar Nature Center, MSU Department of Entomology,  Mid-Michigan CISMA, Eaton County Parks and Recreation, Camp Newaygo, MSUFCU, Arboriculture Society of Michigan, Mid-Michigan Wood Workers Guild, Michigan United Conservation Club (MUCC), Clinton Trail Forestry Consultant, General Motors Lansing and Capital Area Audubon Society.

2019 presenter station_burke lake.jpgPhoto: Students learning from Burke Lake Banding Station about foods that birds get from trees and shrubs.

Help Plant Trees by Drinking Beer

The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance is partnering up with Arbor Brewing Company for the month of April to help raise money for tree plantings near wetlands, lakes and rivers. Arbor Brewing is raising money through the sale of their Treebeard IPA and donating to MADA!

Trees help naturally filter our water, and we know that clean water = clean beer! So what we’re saying is.. drink more beer to help us plant more trees! This is a statewide initiative and the beer can be purchased at various locations from grocery stores to bars and resturants.

About Arbor Brewing Co.

Arbor Brewing Company has two locations: Ypsilanti (Corner Brewery), Ann Arbor (Brewpub). The staff at Arbor Brewing pride themselves in being environmentally conscious. They have installed solar panels on the roof of their Corner Brewery location and the Brewpub in Ann Arbor is in the process of working towards composting all waste and having 100% compostable to-go containers, straws, napkins, etc. They should reach their goal in the next couple months. They also support local farmers and hop growers by purchasing local and Michigan-grown ingredients whenever possible, both in brewery production and in their kitchens. For years, Arbor Brewing has been participating in Earth Day Clean-ups, Arbor Day events and supporting the Huron Watershed Council. Every year, they hope to grow and expand their efforts.  It is Arbor Brewing’s goal to plant as many trees/shrubs as possible this year near wetlands and rivers to help reduce erosion, stormwater runoff and to clean the water we drink.

Click here to learn more about Arbor Brewing Co.

Arbor Brewing partnership

Arbor Brewing participating locations       more participating locations

Click here to find a location near you that is selling Treebeard IPA!


“Treebeard is a midwest IPA that is loaded with tropical notes such as pineapple, mango, and citrus which make this brew refreshing and perfect for spring while still being satisfying to the most eccentric hop heads out there. Featuring simcoe, mosaic and comet hops and backed up by a Vienna and caramel malts the beer will also appeal to those who like more Earthy brews and prefer not to be overrun with a hoppy beer. Simply put Treebeard is an IPA that can truly appeal to any beer lover with its rich malty characteristics but unique and flavorful hop selection which makes a perfect beer to enjoy on a spring day under the shade of a luscious tree in your backyard.”

-John Fahrner, Sommbeer


Gearing Up for Arbor Day

Arbor Day is right around the corner! Roughly 1,000 second and third graders from the mid-Michigan area are expected to attend our celebration this year! Students will rotate among hands-on natural resources activity stations and spend the entire day outside celebrating Arbor Day.

The annual Arbor Day Celebration at Potter Park Zoo is a great opportunity for teachers and their students to participate in a cost free outdoor field trip. Switching it up and having students learn while outdoors is an enriching and fun experience.

Each year is a little different, we select a new tree species to be planted during the tree planting ceremony and there are a few different activity stations every year.

In addition to planning for Arbor Day, we hold a statewide 5th grade poster contest. The theme for this year’s 5th grade poster contest was “Trees for Bees.” We received 46 fantastic poster entries from all across the state of Michigan. Voting is open on our Facebook Page as well as at MSUFCU Headquarters at 3777 West Rd., East Lansing, MI 48823. Voting closes April 1, 2019. The 1st place winner will be invited to Arbor Day. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners and their teachers will receive gift cards!

If you are wanting to plan your own Arbor Day Celebration this year, visit to learn more!


Spring is Here and it’s a Great Time to Start Thinking About Planting Trees

One of the best times of the year is finally here, tree planting season (AKA Spring)! It’s time to break out your shovel and gloves to give the earth a little tendering loving care. Get growing!

There many different tree species to choose from but native trees are best because they are adapted to living in Michigan. Whether you are looking to create wildlife habitat, prevent soil erosion or provide shade in your yard, there is a tree for you!

We are encouraging the planting of trees for bees and other pollinators because they rank at the top of the list of important insects, moving pollen from flower to flower to ensure pollination and the resulting production of many of our most important fruits and vegetables. Our supermarket shelves and dining room tables would look dramatically different if not for pollinators — especially bees. But in many areas, parasites, a lack of forage, and other factors are threatening bee health and survival. Trees’ flowers are a critical source of forage for bees, providing nutrient-rich pollen and nectar that bees use for food and to make honey.

Not sure where to start? First, read this article on trees that are good to plant for pollinators, then find a local nursery to purchase the trees from!

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Beech Trees are Dying, and Nobody’s Sure Why

A confounding new disease is killing beech trees in Ohio and elsewhere, and plant scientists are sounding an alarm while looking for an explanation.

Researchers and naturalists from The Ohio State University and metro parks in northeastern Ohio report on the emerging “beech leaf disease” epidemic, calling for speedy work to find a culprit so that work can begin to stop its spread.

The disease has already been found in 11 counties in Ohio, eight Pennsylvania counties and five counties in Ontario, Canada. It’s characterized by dark-green “bands” that appear between the veins of the trees’ leaves and provide the first hint that the tree is diseased. In later stages, leaves become uniformly darker, shrunken, crinkly and leathery. Affected limbs stop forming buds and, over time, the tree dies. Young trees seem to be particularly vulnerable.

Senior researcher Pierluigi “Enrico” Bonello, an Ohio State professor of plant pathology, says “it’s hard at this point to say where this disease will go, but it has all the hallmarks of something like emerald ash borer or sudden oak death, threats to trees that start slowly and quickly pick up speed. We seem to be in that rapid expansion phase right now.”

Scientists can’t be sure what is causing beech leaf disease, but researchers at Ohio State think that the symptoms point to a microbe rather than an insect.

If just half of the American beech trees in Ohio were lost, it would come at environmental costs of approximately $225 million, according to an estimate in the new paper (Forest Pathology journal) that takes into account various factors, including the trees’ role in removing carbon from the atmosphere, maintaining biodiversity, furnishing habitat for wildlife, aiding in water purification, providing aesthetic and recreational value as well as other ecosystem services.

The threat is significant in Ohio and throughout more than 30 states in the eastern U.S., where beech trees are common and serve as habitats for a variety of animal species and as food for woodland birds and mammals, including squirrels and bears.

If Beech leaf disease were to invade Michigan, we could suffer some serious losses. It is evident that this disease has the capability to cause great harm.

Sources: Original article written by Misti Crane, Ohio State News


MADA Tree Planting Grants Available to Michigan Communities

Tree Planting Grants are now available to Michigan communities!

The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance (MADA) is currently offering local units of government, public educational institutions, public libraries, non-profit organizations, neighborhood associations, churches and tribal governments the opportunity to apply for a Michigan Arbor Day Alliance Tree Planting Grant.

Grant applicants may request up to $2,000 to fund tree planting projects in their community.  Grant funds may only be used to purchase trees.  Applicants must show evidence of a 1:1 match for anticipated money.  This is a statewide grant opportunity for Michigan projects only.

Grant applications are available on the Michigan Arbor Day Alliance’s website.  To apply, please go to to download an application. Applications are due by mail no later than April 30, 2019. Funded plantings must be completed by December 31st, 2019.

The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance would like to thank our program sponsors for helping make these programs possible: ITC, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing Board of Water and Light, Eaton Conservation District, and Michigan State University Federal Credit Union.

The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance is a coalition of organizations and agencies dedicated to the promotion and celebration of Arbor Day throughout Michigan.  Our dedication comes from our belief in the importance of trees and their role in community health and well-being.  Since 1993, MADA has provided educational programs and services to Michigan communities. The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance is a program of the Eaton Conservation District in Charlotte, MI and is made possible through support from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

If you have any questions regarding this grant program, please contact Hannah Reynolds, State Arbor Day Program Coordinator at or (517) 543-1512 x 5

Battling Oak Wilt Disease

Oaks are some of our most beloved trees in the state of Michigan. Why? They reach heights of up to 150 feet tall and provide plenty of shade during our hot summer months.

But oaks, especially those in the red oak family, are threatened from a disease known as Oak Wilt (Ceratocystis fagacearum). Oak wilt is an exotic fungus of unknown origin. This disease is caused by the fungus Bretziella fagacearum. It spreads from tree to tree by underground root contact, through tiny, sap-feeding beetles that carry spores from fungal pads on infected trees into wounds on healthy oaks. The microscopic spores can infect and kill a red oak within weeks. Spores can be found on recently cut firewood from trees that died of oak wilt. This is one of the reasons why the DNR and other agencies advise against moving firewood.


Photo: Oak wilt spore mat and pressure pad, MSU Extension

Image result for oak wilt leaves turning burn msu extension

Photo: Leaves turning brown, MSU Extension

A symptom of oak wilt is the leaves begin to turn brown, with parts of them still green. Once a red oak starts showing symptoms, you cannot save it from dying. On the plus side, simple actions such as refraining from pruning oak trees between April 15 and July 15  and covering accidental bark wounds with paint, can help keep healthy trees from being infected.

Oaks in the red oak family, including black oak, northern red oak and northern pin oak, are most susceptible to the disease, which kills trees by interrupting the flow of sap.

Trees in the white oak group are less susceptible because they have a different internal cell structure that prevents rapid spread of the infection through the tree. Trees in the white oak group have rounded leaf edges and include white oak and swamp white oak.

Tips to avoid oak wilt: 

-Don’t prune oaks from mid-April through the summer.
-If oak trees must be pruned or removed during the risk period, or a tree gets damaged, immediately cover wounds with tree-wound paint or latex-based paint.
-Don’t move firewood, especially if it comes from oak wilt-killed trees, as it can harbor the fungus.
-If firewood is suspected of being tainted by oak wilt, cover it with a plastic tarp all the way to the ground, leaving no openings. This keeps beetles away so they can’t move spores onto healthy trees. Leave wood covered until the fall of the year following tree death to keep the disease from spreading.

Report suspect oak wilt in Michigan:

Department of Natural Resources Forest Health Division: or by phone at 517-284-5895.

If possible, please take one or more photos of the invasive species you are reporting. Also make note of the location, date and time of the observation. This will aid in verification of your report. You may be asked to provide your name and contact information if follow-up is needed.

– Or – use the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) online reporting tool

– Or – download the MISIN smartphone app and report from your phone –

For more information on oak wilt, click here. 

Resources: Michigan Department of Natural Resources and MSU Extension


Winter Tree Identification

There are about a dozen characteristics available to help identify trees. Learning which subset of characteristics to use for a particular tree is where practice and skill are needed. Some characteristics are seasonal, such as leaves, fruits, and flowers. Most others are more year-round, such as twig and branching patterns, buds, bud scars, bark, tree form, site, and tree associates.

When all the leaves have all fallen off deciduous trees, you can identify them by examining the bud! You could look at the bark, but it can vary greatly among-st individual trees.

Sometimes, if a tree is too tall, accessing the buds is nearly impossible, so other identifying characteristics may be necessary to ID the tree.

A good tactic for beginners is learning the ten most common tree species first; sugar maple, red maple, white cedar, red pine, white pine, northern red oak, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, black cherry and hemlock. Once these trees are known, comparing them to unknown species will often make the identification process move quicker.

In the chart below, there are some common Michigan tree species with pictures of their buds.

Image result for winter tree identification

To learn more about some of the identifying bud characteristics of some common Michigan tree species, click here. 

Now that you are familiar with what the buds of some of Michigan’s common tree species look like, test your knowledge and go for a hike in the woods!

Remember to consider “where” the tree grows as that can be quite helpful, especially for sites that are particularly dry or wet. Some species are intolerant of shade, saturation in the soil, etc. The more trees you know, the easier it is to learn more. One of the best field guides is “Trees of Michigan” by Linda Kershaw. Norman Smith’s “The Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes” is also a good field guide.