Proper lawn care is essential to great water quality. If excessive fertilizer ends up in the street and storm sewers, it can create water quality problems. The same is true for lawn clippings, fallen leaves and pesticides. When these materials wash into our waterways, they bring with them excess nutrients and pollutants that can cause algae to bloom or damage water quality in other ways. So what, then, is considered proper lawn care and how can you do it? 

Don't dump ANYTHING into storm drains
In most urban and suburban areas, your street connects to downstream lakes, wetlands and streams through the storm sewer system. Water runs off your street and your yard rapidly through storm sewers carrying pollutants collected along the way, directly into our lakes and rivers.

Remember, storm water is not treated like sanitary sewer water before it reaches the local lakes, wetlands and streams.

Use natural fertilizers
When mowing your lawn, simply leave the grass clippings where they are. This acts as a natural fertilizer and reduces the need to add chemicals. It can reduce your need to use nitrogen fertilizer by 1/3 to 1/2 yearly! The type of fertilizer your yard needs can be determined by UMN extension.

Sweep up spilled fertilizer and pesticide, grass clippings, and leaves
Be sure to keep an eye on where your grass clippings, leaves, pesticide and fertilizer end up. Make sure that they are swept up, not hosed off, so they do not blow into the street, because they'll end up downstream, causing problems in your local lake, wetland or stream.

Use fertilizer and pesticides sparingly
Most lawns don't need fertilizer, and pesticides can be harmful to children and pets. Due to the excess phosphorus in our lakes, rivers, and streams Minnesota has made it the law that you must use 0-phosphorus fertilizer. You will know that you have the right fertilizer if the second number on the fertilizer mix is 0. By following the directions provided with fertilizer and pesticides you ensure that you are not overusing these chemicals and are preventing harmful runoff into sewer drains. Using home-made or bought compost is another great way to introduce nutrients back into the soil 

The best time to fertilize is mid-to-late October, making sure you are applying your fertilizer right helps you protect water quality and the health of Minnesota's great lakes.

There are many ways to cut down on pesticide use in your flower and vegetable gardens. Integrated pest management is an ecosystem-based strategy that uses a variety of techniques to manage insects and diseases, while reducing the impacts of harmful chemicals on wildlife, people, and the environment.

Reuse or recycle leaves
Leaves in the street will eventually end up in the storm sewer system and thus into the local lake, wetland or stream. Rake leaves out of the street not into it.

Composting leaves is the preferred disposal method. If composting is not an option for you consider using fallen leaves as winter mulch around rose bushes and landscape plants. Another option is to keep the leaves on your lawn (if less than 2 inches of leaf cover), by making several passes over them with a power mower. The chopped leaves can stay on the lawn without causing damage to area lakes and streams. Finally, you can bag up your leaves for disposal by your municipality - most cities compost bagged leaves. In the fall, bag up excess organic debris (lawn clippings, leaves, etc.) on your lawn.

Recycle rainwater
When watering your garden, try using water from a rain barrel. Rain barrels typically sit under a drain spout and collect rain and runoff from the roof of your home. This water can then be recycled for lawn irrigation.

Water wisely
Most lawns do not need to be watered very frequently, unless extremely hot and dry conditions persist. The best time of day to water your lawn is from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Water loss due to evaporation drastically increases with higher temperature and increased wind. Avoid watering late into the night - it could encourage lawn diseases.

To tell if your lawn needs watering, note if the color has changed from a lively green to a duller gray-green color and/or note if your footprints remain visible as you walk across your lawn. Gray-green color and/or noticeable footprints mean your lawn needs watering.

Raise the mower blade when mowing your lawn
Generally good quality turf is 2-3 inches in height. Cutting grass shorter can weaken turf and invite pests and weeds. If your grass is particularly long, cut back gradually to reduce stress on the plants.

Seed or sod your lawn in the spring or fall
Fall is the best time to repair lawns. Try to complete any seeding activities by mid-September.

Clean up pet waste
Pet waste can carry disease-causing bacteria that make water unsafe for swimming and drinking. Throw pet waste in the trash, flush it down the toilet or bury it.

Wash your car on the lawn
The water, soap and dirt from your car when washed on paved areas flows through a storm drain to the area lake or stream. By washing your car on the lawn, you not only water your grass, you allow the soil and plants to filter out the soap and dirt.