Natural Lawn Care
Homeowners often do not see themselves as having an impact on water quality as individuals. However, we all live in a watershed and therefore have to consider the cumulative impacts. Additionally, some homeowners fail to realize that while they may not live right next to a lake or stream, runoff from their lawn can still end up in nearby waterbodies through a network of curbs, gutters, and storm drains. When you combine excess use of fertilizers and pesticides, overwatering, and compacted soils in urban environments, the risk of polluted runoff increases.
The best and easiest ways to promote a healthy natural lawn are by mowing grass to 3 or 4 inches tall with a sharp blade, leaving clippings on the lawn as a source of nitrogen for the soil, and core aerating in the fall to improve watering and root structure. Also, follow these tips:
- Build healthy soil. Healthy soil is essential for healthy plants. 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 and organic matter that improves the soil’s ability to hold water and retain beneficial microorganisms.
- Let nature do the work. Use natural, non-synthetic fertilizers. Compost and plant and animal-based fertilizers improve soil and turf health without causing the degree of polluted runoff associated with synthetic options. Pesticides also kill unintended, beneficial organisms that are critical to soil health and keep lawns from building up thatch.
- 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.
- Right plant, right place. Different plants have specific water, nutrient, and light requirements. Poorly adapted plants are susceptible to attack by disease and pests. Choosing appropriate plants for your area can cut down on lawn care expenses. Avoid invasive plants that can outcompete native plants.
- Let the rain soak in and water smart. Capturing or filtering rainwater on your property provides several benefits, such as reduced runoff and minimized erosion and nutrient loading in nearby waterways. You can use water wisely by integrating cisterns and rain barrels, rain gardens, and permeable pavers into your landscape design. Consider letting your lawn go dormant in the summer or other dry periods. If you choose to irrigate, limit watering to one inch per week including rainfall, and minimize evaporative waste by watering in the morning or evenings, as needed.
Education & Training
- Sea Grant Faculty Scholars program provides new opportunities for researchers in Illinois and Indiana
- Podcast: Teach Me About the Great Lakes Live from IAGLR!
- In the News: Climate change threatens drinking water quality across the Great Lakes
- In the News: Partnering to improve water quality in Illinois
- Social norms help motivate people to adopt practices that protect water quality