Yard and Lawn Care
We all enjoy a well-maintained yard. However, the process of establishing and maintaining your landscape can introduce pollutants into our city storm system. Soil, rocks, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and plant clippings, can be washed or blown into our creeks and lakes. When maintaining your property remove all materials and dispose of them in the trash or compost pile.
Watering Without Waste
Achieving a lush green lawn, beautiful spring flowers, and hearty summer crops are understandable gardening goals, and applying pesticides and fertilizers is a common practice for many gardeners. Unfortunately, those lawn care chemicals often wind up washing right into local waters. The excess nutrients from fertilizers can cause drinking water contamination, massive algal blooms, and fish kills. The contaminants from pesticides can result in waters that are not fishable or drinkable.
Here are a few gardening tips that will help minimize the effect that fertilizers and pesticides have on water resources:
- Fertilize sparingly. If you must fertilize, September is the best month. And be sure to use slow-release fertilizer.
- If you want to fertilize more than once, don’t fertilize in the spring until you have mowed the lawn three times.
- More is not always better! Skip the “step programs” offered by many lawn care companies, and be sure to apply fertilizers and pesticides only as directed. Using less will save you money, too! If you do use a lawn care company, ask them about their environmental options and certifications.
- Go natural: mow high and leave grass clippings on the lawn. It helps improve the lawn’s health and quality, and you’re less likely to need fertilizer.
- Avoid using fertilizers or pesticides near wellheads or within 75 feet of waterways.
- Check the weather forecast before applications, and don’t apply fertilizers or pesticides when there is rain predicted.
- Avoid using combination fertilizer/pesticide products. Hand pick weeds when possible, and if you must treat weeds or insects with pesticides, spot treat them rather than dousing the entire lawn.
Anything that’s lying on pavement is more easily washed by stormwater down stormdrains:
- If any lawn chemicals or yard debris get on the sidewalk or driveway, sweep them back onto the lawn to prevent them from washing into stormdrains. Even grass clippings and excess leaves don’t belong in our streams and rivers.
- Sweep, don’t hose, the driveway.
Think Native and Natural
A few small changes in your lawn care practices can mean a healthier garden and less pollutants for our waters:
- Consider using organic fertilizers such as bone meal, blood meal, compost, or organic blends. No matter what product you use, though, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for application rate and timing.
- Spread a thick layer of mulch in gardens (except for heat-loving veggies like tomatoes), around shrubs and under trees to reduce water evaporation from the soil. It also keeps the ground cooler, keeps plants happier, and inhibits weeds.
- Let your grass grow. The ideal length depends upon the type, but the general rule of thumb is to never cut more than a third of the blade. And when you cut it, leave the grass clippings on the lawn. It’s the best kind of fertilizer!
- Consider letting your lawn go dormant, if there’s a drought. It will come back in the fall.
- Consider planting more native plants; these are plants that have adapted to the local geography, hydrology and climate of the area. As a result, they tend to need less care, require little or no irrigation or fertilizer, are resistant to local pests and disease, and provide habitat for native wildlife species.
Conserving water when you’re working outdoors can reduce the potential for contaminants to wind up in local waters. Here are a few ways to water without waste:
- Established lawns are happy with one inch of water per week, including rainfall. And if you must water, water just once a week for a deep soaking.
- Adjust sprinklers so that they don’t water paved surfaces. In the event that it’s unavoidable, direct the flow of water toward your lawn or garden.
- Check the weather forecast, if you have automatic sprinklers and be sure they aren’t programmed to come on in the rain.
- Don’t water in the heat of the day. Watering early in the morning or in the evening minimizes the water lost to evaporation.
- Consider using slow-watering techniques such as drip irrigation or soaker hoses. They are considerably more effective than sprinklers at getting the water where it’s supposed to be.
Hiring a Lawn Care Company
Here’s what you need to know:
- Request a soil test.
- No one can tell you what your lawn needs without one!
- Fertilize only in the fall, if at all.
- Fall is the time of year when grass puts energy into growing its root system.
- Fertilizing in the spring will lead to more mowing.
- Fertilizing in the summer is a waste of money because grass isn’t growing.
- Overseed to get rid of weeds
- One of the best ways to get rid of weeds is to grow thick grass.
- Request that your lawn care company overseed with perennial ryegrass throughout the growing season to outcompete weeds.
- Revitalize your soil with compost
- Grass needs 6″ of quality soil to thrive.
- Request that your lawn care company topdress your lawn with compost to add nutrients and organic matter to your soil.
- Set the mower blades at 3” and leave the grass clippings.
- Leaving the clippings on your lawn is a free source of nitrogen, the most common nutrient lawns need to grow
- Leaving clippings will lead to less fertilizer use.
- Water wisely.
- If needed, water only once or twice per week with a deep soaking (1-1.5 inches)
- Spot treat to get rid of pests.
- There is never a need to apply weed or bug killer over your entire lawn.
- Request that your lawn care company use the least toxic product available, and only apply to the problem area.
- Keep in mind, organic doesn’t mean safe! Use of any weed and bug killers, organic or not, can be harmful to human or pet health.