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Turf growers learn there can be too much of a good thing

In the world of turf management, too much green isn't necessarily a good thing.

For years, some golf courses and park maintenance crews have liberally spread fertilizers on grass to help it grow.

But now, thanks to a new state law, those people charged with growing turf must develop a nutrient management plan to find out how much fertilizer is enough.

The law took effect March 10 and affects golf courses, city parks departments and anyone who fertilizes more than five acres of contiguous property.

According to Ruth Hilfiker, commercial horticulture educator with St. Croix County's UW-Extension office, the required plans are good for the environment.

Nutrients have been running off into lakes, streams and rivers for years, causing algae blooms and lessening water quality.

"To a certain point, nutrients are good for fish," Hilfiker said. "But too much uses oxygen in the water and promotes weed growth."

Too much fertilizer can also cause problems for drinking water supplies, as nitrogen can seep down to the groundwater over time, she said.

"In some cases people have been putting on way too much fertilizer," she said. "They were putting the same amount of fertilizer on all their property. But different parts of a property need different levels of nutrients."

The new state law requires that "turf managers" develop a written plan for their land. In order to develop the plan, landowners must complete soil sampling to determine how much fertilizer is needed in various parts of the property.

"People who manage large acreages should be doing this anyway," Hilfiker said. "It makes good environmental sense."

Turf managers can complete the plan themselves if they have the necessary training or experience to accomplish the task. If not, the property owners must hire someone to complete the plan.

Golf courses are among the turf managers that are most affected by the new regulations. There are 33 golf courses in St. Croix and Pierce counties alone, and each can have a negative or positive impact on the environment, depending on how they apply nutrients.

"It's a phenomenal amount of land involved with those golf courses," Hilfiker said.

Hilfiker said some homeowners with large parcels may also be affected by the new rules. If someone fertilizes a large plot of land, they must have a plan written up. She said many experienced lawn services can provide such a service to homeowners.

A nutrient management plan workshop is scheduled from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 10, in Hudson. To register, or for more information, contact Doug Soldat at (608) 263-3631 or More than 300 letters were sent to turf managers in St. Croix, Pierce and Polk counties inviting them to the training.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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