Picture this…..

By Paul Witting

…… a Lake Charlevoix shoreline owner; there you are on your deck, blissfully gazing out onto our beautiful lake. In your mind are many thoughts including how fortunate you are to have this irreplaceable body of water in your front yard. And, you have a certain peace of mind knowing that your property is being ecological friendly to the lake for all to enjoy.

If this last thought is not possible, the part about being environmental friendly to the lake; here are some things to think about.

Sensible Shoreline Development and Maintenance can make it possible. With a little extra effort; lakeside property owners can have a beautifully landscaped waterfront that is environmentally responsive to preserving and enhancing all the splendor of the lake.

Here’s how……

Landscaping lakefront property differs from typical home landscaping. Generally, when developing a landscaping plan for a residential lot, the home owner selects favorite plants and alters the growing environment to get them to survive. This approach often requires the need to use fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other chemical aids. These fertilizers and chemicals can wash into the lake after a heavy rain and will harm wildlife and degrade water quality.

Using a “lakescaping” approach, the waterfront property owner assesses the growing environment and soil composition, and then selects plants that are known to grow in the existing conditions. Soils can be tested using home kits purchased at local hardware stores or Michigan State University. Information about the MSU service can be obtained at (231) 582 6232 or on their website A standard soil test will provide information on soil pH, available phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium levels, as well as, recommendations for lime and fertilizer. With this information, the lakeside lot owner can give preference to native plants that will thrive in the existing soil and that do not require supplemental water, fertilizers, pesticides or excessive maintenance.

We have included with this article a list of invasive non-native species to avoid and an inventory of native vegetation that will make your greenbelt a thing of beauty and a real friend for the lake.

Having a lawn on waterfront property is not out of the question IF, there is a greenbelt between the grass and waters edge. This buffer of native plants will filter out runoff of chemicals or nutrients from the lawn before they get into the lake. A 30 foot deep greenbelt is recommended, however, any depth of natural vegetation is better than none.

Fertilizer packages tell you the percentage of the primary nutrients makeup by weight. The three main components are….

  • Nitrogen (for leaf development and vivid green color)
  • Phosphorus (for root growth)
  • Potassium (sometimes called potash, for root development and disease reistance)

For example, a bag marked “16-4-8” contains 16% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus and 8% potassium. The other 72% is filler material.

Phosphorus in fertilizers is one of the more harmful chemicals to the lake, in that it accelerates algae growth. It has been reported that soils in Northern Michigan generally have enough phosphorus for lawn growth, so unless you know for sure that there isn’t enough phosphorus in your soil, always use a zero-phosphorus fertilizer.

Additional thoughts for a waterfront friendly lawn……

  • Do not apply fertilizer to your lawn in the spring until 3 weeks after green-up.
  • Never let fertilizer land directly in the water.
  • Keep fertilizers off any concrete or asphalt surfaces. Rainwater could carry these materials into a drainage system that connects to lake water. Sweep fertilizers back onto lawn.
  • Routine clipping removal from the lawn will reduce soil phosphorus levels over time.
  • Do not allow clippings to reach the water. This is like throwing fertilizer in the water.
  • A light watering after fertilizing will move this material into the thatch and root zone and greatly reduce the possibility of it running into the lake.

Two other practices that will protect lakefront water.

  • Properly dispose of household hazardous wastes. For safe disposal information; keep an eye on local newspapers for announcements on Charlevoix County hazardous waste collection dates. There is a collection day scheduled this year for Saturday, September 6th. You may go to the Charlevoix County recycling website for more information:
  • Properly maintain your septic system. An informative bulletin on the maintenance of shoreline septic systems was published by Michigan State University in 1993. You may access this information at:

* With permission from The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, portions of this article, along with the list of acceptable shoreline vegetation, was taken from an articles previously published by that organization.