The Lake Champlain Sea Grant Program and University of Vermont Extension recently announced their Raise the Blade campaign in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program and five other local organizations. The campaign’s goal is to educate the public about lawn care practices that help reduce stormwater runoff into lakes, streams, and municipal treatment facilities, while improving soil health.
Also partnering in the campaign are Composting Association of Vermont, Lake Champlain Committee, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
According to Linda Patterson, land use planning and water quality educator for Lake Champlain Sea Grant, the campaign recommends three simple practices.
“Raise the blade on your lawnmower to three inches because longer grass makes longer roots that allow more rain absorption,” says Patterson. “Second, leave the clippings on the lawn because they decompose into organic matter, a natural fertilizer for healthy soils and lush, green grass. Healthy soils act as a sponge to soak up, filter, and store the water. And, finally, cut only about one third of the length of the blade at each mowing. This method allows the grass to conserve energy for strong roots, and the clippings to decompose more quickly.”
The campaign notes that the recommendations have additional benefits. They reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizer, increase lawn resistance to disease and pests and increase resilience to extreme weather such as heavy downpours or extended drought.
Raise the Blade launched a 2016 56-town survey within the Lake Champlain Basin. Eighty-three South Burlington residents were among the 1,058 respondents who answered questions about their lawn care practices. Respondents reported they would be motivated to mow at a minimum of three inches knowing it was healthier for the lawn and the environment.
Based on the survey and input from citizen focus groups held in Plattsburgh and South Burlington, the campaign developed a two-prong approach for their message, public demonstration sites and educational outreach.
Ten local businesses, including Magic Hat Brewery on Bartlett Bay Road, provided lawn space for research demonstration sites. Since the summer of 2017, research assistants have been mowing small sections at different lengths, assessing grass health, and measuring the rate of stormwater absorption for each section. Early results indicate that grass mowed to three inches is significantly thicker than grass mowed to two inches.
Educational outreach for the Raise the Blade campaign includes providing information and demonstrations at public events such as SoBu Nite Out, South End Art Hop and the Vermont Flower Show.
In addition, Patterson has introduced the campaign at meetings of local Rotary Clubs, Business Network International and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. As a result, 11 businesses joined the campaign by committing to follow the recommended practices, including Lake Champlain Chocolates, Vermont Gas, and Stantec Consulting Services. Participating businesses post lawn signs and distribute information cards to their customers. Bibens Ace Hardware in South Burlington also hangs Raise the Blade tags on new lawnmowers.
With mowing season approaching, the Raise the Blade campaign will continue their efforts to raise awareness including having information on buses and at upcoming community events.