Illinois lawn caretakers: Join the natural lawn care discussion!

December 20th, 2019 by

Many homeowners are unaware that common lawn care practices can cause harm to their watersheds. For instance, when lawn caretakers use excessive fertilizers or apply them at inappropriate times (such as before a heavy rain), nutrients can run off and contaminate local bodies of water. However, keeping a beautiful and healthy lawn doesn’t have to have negative impacts on water quality. Illinois residents are invited to a join in a conversation about how they care for their lawns, what environmentally-friendly practices they use, and how to maintain healthy lawns while also protecting local watersheds.

In conjunction with University of Illinois Extension, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) is conducting a series of focus group discussions with lawn caretakers across Illinois in January of 2020. Focus groups will be held from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on January 9 in Effingham, January 16 in Rock Island and in Grayslake on January 23. All of these events will be held at the local county Extension Office, and refreshments will be provided.

“We’re excited to get out and talk with people about natural lawn care,” said Sarah Zack, IISG pollution prevention specialist. “We learned a lot from last summer’s statewide survey about what actions people are taking to keep their lawns healthy and what they’d like to learn more about. These focus groups will give us a chance to sit down with people and talk about the results and hear their feedback. It’s important that the public gets to weigh in on our efforts because that ensures that we’re reaching out in a way that’s most helpful to them.”

The results of the focus group discussions will be instrumental in designing future campaigns that are effective for the people of Illinois.

A $30 Amazon e-gift card will be provided as a thank you for participating. The specific meeting address will be provided upon registration. For more information or to register for a focus group, contact Sarah Zack at or 217-300-4076.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Illinois residents: What’s your opinion on natural lawn care?

May 20th, 2019 by

Watering your lawn in the early morning or in the evening. Using phosphorus-free fertilizers. Mowing your grass to a height of at least 3 inches. These are but a few steps you can take to have healthier and environment-friendly lawns.

We want to share lawn care tips that are important to homeowners, so won’t you help us by answering a brief questionnaire?

If you are at least 18 years old and take care of your lawn, we want your opinions. Our questionnaire will take no longer than 20 minutes to complete, and fully completing the survey makes you eligible to be entered into a drawing to win an iPad!

Take the survey:

If you have questions about this project, you may contact either of the principal investigators, Sarah Zack ( and Lulu Rodriguez ( If you have questions about your rights as a participant, feel free to get in touch with the University of Illinois Office for the Protection of Research Subjects at 217-333-2670 or

Thank you for taking the time to assist our researchers with this study.

Grant awarded to communicate natural lawn care practices in Illinois

October 17th, 2018 by


URBANA, Ill. – Seven projects have been selected to receive funding in the 2018 Interdisciplinary Collaboration Extension (ICE) grant competition.

ICE grants fund partnerships between University of Illinois Extension personnel and faculty in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences for projects that will use campus-based research to enhance the quality of life of people in communities across Illinois. Project themes vary widely—from improving school nutrition programs to helping farmers manage nitrogen application—but all focus on research with practical applications for Illinois residents.

Each winning team will receive up to $60,000 that can be spent over two years to enact their projects. Of 22 total proposals submitted for review, seven were selected for funding, described below. All departmental affiliations are in the College of ACES unless noted otherwise.

Targeting natural lawn care communications to homeowners in Illinois

Principal Investigator: Sarah Zack, Pollution Prevention Extension Specialist, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Co-Principal Investigator: Lulu Rodriguez, Agricultural Communications Program Director

Collaborators: Allison Neubauer, Great Lakes Outreach Associate, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant; Haley Haverback, Extension Watershed Outreach Associate; Jennifer Woodyard, Extension Watershed Outreach Associate

Conventional lawn care methods are resource intensive: Approximately 89 million pounds of pesticide-fertilizer products (weed and feed) are applied annually, and outdoor irrigation comprises 30 percent of community water demand in summer. In this project, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and College of ACES Agricultural Communications investigators will address lawn care-related pollution in watersheds by developing, piloting, and assessing a natural lawn care communication campaign in three Illinois communities.


Information on the other six funded projects can be found in the University of Illinois Extension news release.

Sources: Shelly Nickols-Richardson, 217-244-4498,; Kim Kidwell, 217-333-0460,

Media contacts: Deborah Seiler, 217-300-5571,; LeAnn Ormsby, 217-244-4786,

Follow the Water: Master naturalists play detective

October 29th, 2015 by
Downspouts, asphalt grading, sloping lawns were some clues the budding master naturalists were given when they got the chance to play “stormwater detective” at the Anita Purvis Nature Center in Urbana, Ill. in October.

The sleuthing was part of a rain garden talk IISG Stormwater Specialist Eliana Brown (pictured fourth from left) presented to 42 students enrolled in the East Central Illinois Master Naturalist program given through University of Illinois Extension.

Using a fictitious “unlimited budget,” the students suggested installing permeable pavers, rain barrels, and solar tiles to make the water’s path more nourishing and less destructive.
Adrienne Gulley, IISG pollution prevention outreach specialist, (pictured handing out pens) closed out the session with a presentation on natural lawn care and the Lawn to Lake program.

The East Central Illinois Master Naturalist training sessions are typically offered one day a week over a two-month period and are led by expert educators in the region.

Approximately 70 hours of classroom instruction and field study and 60 hours of volunteer work are required to complete the program and become certified. In order to remain a certified Master Naturalist, 30 hours of volunteer work and 10 hours of continuing education or advanced training are required each year.

Lawn to Lake works with Chicago community

October 1st, 2015 by
IISG pollution prevention outreach specialist Adrienne Gulley shared the Lawn to Lake program with dozens of Chicago residents gathered at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church last Saturday.
The attendees mostly, from the Chatham community on the south side of Chicago, were at the church as part of RainReady, an organization started in response to urban flooding.
Gulley used the Lawn to Lake program to help those in attendance learn the importance of maintaining a healthy lawn through natural techniques that don’t rely on applying phosphorous. To help control excess water from heavy rains, she talked about using rain gardens, cisterns, rain barrels, and permeable pavers.
“I was impressed by how many residents were interested in creating lawns using native plants and natural lawn care methods,” Gulley said. “They were really receptive to all the options out there.”

Cultivate healthy, beautiful landscapes with natural lawn care

April 7th, 2015 by

Residents across Illinois and Indiana are taking advantage of the warmer weather to plan garden and yard projects. Adrienne Gulley shares some with easy tips for keeping your lawn green and the water clean. 

Nothing is more appealing than fresh flowers and green grass. But the chemicals we put on our lawns each year can end up in our lakes and rivers, where they lower water quality and harm aquatic ecosystems. Fortunately, you don’t have to give up your beautiful landscape to protect our waterways. This summer, take the Lawn to Lake pledge and adopt these natural lawn care practices: 

  • Mow at a 3” or higher. Longer grass shades out weeds and retains moisture better.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn. They’re a natural fertilizer. 
  • Aerate soil to reduce compaction.
  • Water deeply, slowly and infrequently to build healthy root systems.
  • Test your soil to determine your fertilizer needs. 
  • Fertilize with a thin layer of compost in the spring and fall.
If you aren’t practicing these tips already, it may be a good idea to simply focus on one tip at a time. Understanding the impact of nutrients from our lawns is the key to keeping our waterways healthy. 
I will be sharing these and similar tips with members of the Illinois Lake Management Association during their Point of Discussion educational series tonight in Springfield. Visit for more information. 

Reducing the use of lawn chemicals prevents pollution in nearby waterways

September 17th, 2014 by

Lawn care decisions play a large role in local water quality and the health of aquatic wildlife. The fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals we put on our lawns can be washed into nearby lakes and rivers in stormwater runoff. Once there, these pollutants spur algae growth, clog gills, decrease resistance to disease, and suffocate eggs and newly hatched larvae. 

The IISG-led Lawn to Lake program continues to educate homeowners, landscapers, and master gardeners on natural lawn care practices that can improve soil health and protect water quality. The program works with community partners across the region to conduct training workshops and provide ‘how to’ resources for a range of audiences. 

Lawn to Lake outreach has led to management changes on an estimated 22,415 lawn acres. These changes are expected to reduce the use of lawn care chemicals, including weed and feed, by more than 3 million pounds a year, protecting nearby aquatic ecosystems from chemical-laden runoff while fostering healthy lawns. 

To learn more about how IISG is empowering communities and individuals to secure a healthy environment, check out our 2013 program impacts. 

Interns Catherine and Jennifer tackled key water supply planning issues

September 12th, 2014 by

Our summer internship program has wrapped up for another year. This year, seven students and recent graduates worked with our specialists on a broad range of issues, including AIS prevention, sediment remediation, and water supply planning. Catherine Kemp and Jennifer Egert spent their summer working with Margaret Schneemann, IISG’s water resource economist. 

Catherine’s work this summer focused on outdoor water conservation and natural lawn care outreach. As part of this, the University of Illinois student teamed up with Kane County and the Northwest Water Planning Alliance to create library displays highlighting a few easy steps homeowners can take to conserve water and reduce landscaping pollution. 

“I also organized a composting workshop for gardeners and worked on a white paper exploring the connection between sustainable look food systems and water. My projects covered such a diverse range of topics that my internship was really engaging and enjoyable. It was so great to work on issues that I am passionate about. 

There are so many organizations that inform and implement environmental policies in the Chicagoland area. I have learned a lot about the work they do and the importance of the large amounts of collaboration that occur here. My internship really opened my eyes to the opportunities available to me in the future.” 

Jennifer, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, dedicated her internship to creating a new, condensed version of the Full-Cost Water Pricing Guidebook using updated data.

“I worked with Margaret to collect water rate data from 284 municipalities in northeastern Illinois and used GIS software to design effective visuals and maps summarizing municipal water rate changes over the past five years. I also included supplemental policy recommendations based on the visuals created along with best management practices for incorporating full-cost water pricing across the region. 

What I enjoyed most about this internship was having the chance to use skills gained from my environmental science education and apply them to a project that has real implications for citizens in the area. I got to go home every day feeling like I had accomplished something worth-while that will benefit our environment and precious natural resources.” 

Both Jennifer and Catherine say they will continue working on environmental issues after they graduate. Catherine plans to join the Peace Corps’s environmental program, while Jennifer hopes to work in environmental law and policy. 

Grab your shovel! The ABCs of building a rain garden

August 14th, 2014 by

In a world of streets, parking lots, and sidewalks, rain gardens can be a place for stormwater to go besides flowing into sewers and ultimately, nearby lakes and rivers. As it flows towards waterbodies, rainwater picks up pollutants like pesticides and fertilizers along the way. Precipitation that is absorbed into rain gardens recharges groundwater 30 percent more than even that of a typical lawn.

Besides that, rain gardens are pretty.

The Southern Lake Michigan Rain Garden Manual is a how-to for homeowners, landscape architects, city planners, and anyone interested in creating a garden to “absorb the storm.” This booklet is chock full of information–from choosing a location to designing and installing a rain garden to care and maintenance. You can find a plant list, including those suited for shade and clay soils, and sample garden plans. 

This publication is adapted from the Vermont Rain Garden Manual for the southern Lake Michigan region. The manual was developed through Lawn to Lake, which is a collaborative program to protect water resources in the Great Lakes region by promoting healthy lawn and landscape practices.

**The Red Oak Rain Garden at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign  

Skip to content