Natural Lawn Care

How does my lawn affect lakes, ponds, and rivers?
Fertilizers and chemicals used to grow a thick and full carpet of green grass can run off your lawn and pollute local waterways. If your lawn is bare and patchy, then soil, phosphorus, and pesticides are washed off even more easily, reducing their effectiveness and wasting your money. The solution is to create an attractive and lake-friendly lawn by building soil that is high in organic matter and supports a microbe community that releases nutrients and combats fungal pests.

How can I care for my lawn without compromising the quality of our water?
Convert to a healthy natural lawn by mowing the grass 3 or 4 inches tall with a sharp lawnmower blade, leave clippings on the lawn as a source of nitrogen for the soil, and core aerate in the fall to improve roots and watering.
Also, follow these tips:

  • Build healthy soil. Healthy soil is essential for healthy plants; it can be achieved by adding compost. Compost improves the soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients and retain beneficial microorganisms. If you take care of your soil, the soil will care for your plants.
  • Test your soil. Many soils don’t need additional phosphorus, and many areas have ordinances restricting its application. A soil test will tell if adequate nutrients are available for plant growth. If your soil test shows that you need to add nutrients, consider using non-synthetic products like compost, which contains plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
  • Let nature do the work. Use natural, non-synthetic fertilizers. Plant- or animal-based fertilizers improve soil and plant health, reducing the need for pesticides and reducing nutrient runoff. Pesticides kill beneficial soil organisms that keep lawn thatch from building up.
  • Shrink your lawn. Focus on what you want from your landscape—for example, a play area for kids or pets or an attractive border—and design and maintain your landscape based on how it will be used. Reducing unnecessary lawn area will help to cut down on maintenance expenses over time.
  • Right plant, right place. Different plants have specific water, nutrient, and light requirements, and pests attack poorly adapted plants. Choosing appropriate plants for your area can also help cut down on lawn care expenses. Also, avoid invasive plants that can out-compete native plants.
  • Let the rain soak in. Rainwater that is captured or filtered on your property provides several benefits. Using water on-site can help reduce runoff and prevent storm water problems, such as erosion and nutrient loading in nearby waterways. You can use water wisely by integrating rain gardens, cisterns and rain barrels, permeable pavers, swales, and terraces into landscape design.
  • Water Smart. Over-watering reduces the health of your plants. Proper watering and reducing the water requirements of your lawn and landscape can save you time and money. In addition, many municipalities have watering restrictions.
  • Integrated Pest Management. Correct the underlying problem prior to applying pesticides. Persistent problems with pests can be a sign of poor lawn and landscape health. Using an integrated approach to pest management, including building your soil and using the right plants, can help stop the problem before it starts.


Sarah Zack
Pollution Prevention Extension Specialist

Allison Neubauer
Visiting Great Lakes Outreach Assistant

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Sea Grant
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