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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

The current edition has an archive list of Home Grown columns.

Extension web sites:












I live on a small lake and my neighbors and I are concerned about getting excessive plant growth in the lake. What can we do to prevent this?

Whatever you do will to be even more successful if you can recruit other lake neighbors to join you. Success will increase with more lakefront property involved. The main culprit that stimulates plant growth is phosphorus. This can happen because people are using a complete fertilizer too close to the water. A complete fertilizer has nitrogen, phosphorus and potash in it. Start out with a soil test. This is going to tell you what is in the soil. If you donít need it, donít add it. Much of Livingston County has adequate phosphorus but a soil test will give you the real story. If you are using a lawn company, tell them that you do not want phosphorus applied. Stay at least 20 feet away from the edge of the water to prevent fertilizer from being washed into the lake. The steeper the slope to the lake, the more you need to back away from the edge. Apply fertilizers in a number of small applications, rather that two or three with more material. A great thing to do would be to install a buffer strip between the water and your lawn, made up of native plants. Keep your boat dock or a little beach area but convert some of the water edge back to a native lake habitat. These plants will thrive if chosen carefully, donít need to be fertilized and will catch and filter material being washed off the lawn to the lake. Encourage everybody not to blow grass clippings into the water. This includes not dumping organic stuff on the shore, too. Remove non-native plants like purple loosestrife but donít drop them in the water. You donít want to add more nutrients to stimulate unwanted plant growth. Unfortunately, every person around your small lake will have different ideas on managing or protecting it. Good luck with the neighbors.

I want to put some more plants into my yard this year. Are there trees and shrubs that have a great deal of problems and are good to avoid?

There are some but one thing to remember is that every plant has certain requirements. If the site doesnít match these, almost all of these donít adapt. They die. So choose your locations and plants carefully. There are some trees and shrubs that could be considered a problem waiting to happen. White birch trees often develop problems like Bronze Birch Borer or Birch Leaf Miner eventually. You can spray or treat the tree every year but do you want to do this for eternity? Look at some of the river birches that are considered resistant. Purple leaf plum often develops a fungal condition called black knot. This is difficult to control. Mountain ash can end up with trunk cankers later in life, which are usually fatal. Blue spruce 15 years old or older can fall victim to a branch canker that kills individual branches. This is called Cytospora and is untreatable. A few others are doomed with the wrong site. Rhododendrons and azaleas need a very acidic soil and filtered sunlight. White dogwood need a somewhat acidic soil with some organic content and filtered sunlight, especially in the afternoon. Do some investigation into what your yard candidates need and what your property has. It will be time well spent.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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