You can have a great lawn, save money AND protect local waterways!
Many people follow the same lawn care routine without really understanding what their lawn needs to be healthy. For example, your soil may already have plenty of nutrients in it for making the grass green and doesn't require additional fertilizer. Unless you or your landscaper is testing the soil, you really don't know what your lawn needs, and you could be using chemicals unnecessarily - and wasting your money.Over-fertilizing and overuse of lawn chemicals happens often. In fact, half of all lawn owners fertilize their lawn, however, only 10 - 20 % have soil tests done (Center for Watershed Protection, 1999). You can change this by testing your soil to see what it actually needs to be healthy. (See "How to Test Your Soil" below)
The other issue with using too many chemicals is that fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides don't always stay on your lawn and can end up washing into storm drains and local waterways during rain events. This can cause a lot of problems in our streams and ponds. For instance, fertilizers cause algae to grow, which can deplete oxygen and hurt aquatic wildlife - and make boating, fishing and swimming unpleasant.
How to Test Your Soil
Get an inexpensive soil test done through UMass Amherst's Soil Testing Lab to determine your lawn's exact fertilizer application. Use the detailed soil results to modify your normal fertilizer application routine.
Follow the step-by-step instructions below to collect soil samples, order a soil test, and interpret your soil test results.
Step 1. Click the image below to download a Umass Soil Testing Lab Order Form.
Step 2. Click the image below to download a Step-By-Step Guide to Sample the Soil in your Lawn.
Step 3. Click the image below to download instructions on interpreting your soil report, as well as viewing an example soil test report!
Step 4. Click the image below to download instructions to properly fertilize your lawn based on your soil test results.
Understand the chemicals you put on your lawn.
- Never apply fertilizer or chemicals before a forecasted rainstorm.
- Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly. Always follow directions and never add more than the directions call for.
- Consider switching to slow release and natural organic fertilizers instead of typical chemical fertilizers.
- Make sure to use fertilizer with no or low phosphorus, as phosphorus encourages algae growth in local waterways.
- If granules land on impervious surfaces (driveway, sidewalk, etc.) during application, be sure to sweep them up.
Your UMass Amherst Soil Test Results will help you understand the correct ratio of fertilizer needed for your unique lawn and soil. If you are currently using excessive fertilizer, the grass in your lawn can't use all the fertilizer you applied, and so it waits, unused, until rain rinses it all away. Once the runoff flows into the local water systems, the excess fertilizer becomes a pollutant that can badly damage local aquatic habitat and cause harmful algal blooms.
Be smart about irrigation.
- Hire a WaterSense Certified Landscape Irrigation Professional to review your system at the beginning of each irrigation season. This will help maximize the efficiency of your system, reducing your water consumption and saving you money.
- Avoid over-watering to prevent excess runoff. A lawn needs just 1" of water per week to be green. Be sure to check weather reports.
- Upgrade to a moisture sensor to ensure irrigating only when needed, and avoid using old-fashioned irrigation timers.
- Don't irrigate in the middle of the day or when it’s windy, in order to prevent evaporation and runoff.
- Make sure that sprinkler heads are pointed at the lawn and not the pavement - adjust and fix heads as necessary.
Think about hardscapes - walkways, patios, and driveways.
Traditional asphalt and concrete contribute to stormwater runoff by preventing water from soaking into the ground. Rain water flows over these impervious surfaces, collects pollutants along the way, and flows into storm drains and streams.
- Use permeable materials such as pavers, bricks, crushed stone, and mulch when building walkways, patios, and driveways. Permeable materials allow rain and snow melt to soak through them, thereby decreasing stormwater runoff and allowing the ground to help filter out pollutants.
Know where your runoff is going.
- Place a rain barrel under your downspout to easily capture rain for use around your property. A one inch rainfall on a 1,000 square foot roof yields approximately 600 gallons of water.
- Redirect downspouts so that water flows into grass or shrubs instead of onto a driveway or sidewalk.
- Install a dry well in your yard to capture excess runoff.
Build a rain garden.
- Rain gardens and grassy swales are specially designed areas planted with native plants that provide a place for runoff from parking areas, driveways, walkways and roofs to collect and slowly filter into the soil, rather than flow directly into storm drains, ponds or lakes.
- Vegetated filter strips are areas of native grass or plants created along roadways or streams. They trap the pollutants stormwater picks up as it flows across driveways and streets.
Always pick up after your dog.
Bacteria from dog waste can runoff into local waterways, adversely affecting drinking water supplies and recreational opportunities, such as swimming, fishing, and boating.
Deliberately leaving pet waste on the ground is not only unpleasant and unhealthy, it is often punishable by fines. Always pick up the waste and dispose of it in a trash can.
Be a good steward of yard waste.
- Don’t leave yard waste in the street or sweep it into storm drains or streams. Either bag it up for town pickup, take it to your local landfill, or re-use it as compost.
- Use the mulch setting on your mower to leave grass clippings in place. This will allow the nutrients in the clippings to be recycled, lowering your need for expensive fertilizer.
- Set your mower to leave the grass taller. This will lower the amount of clippings while also causing less stress to your grass.
- Never dump leaves in wetlands or waterways (it's harmful and illegal)
- Create a compost pile with your yard waste and use the nutrient rich humus in your gardens or potted plants.
- Use grass clippings or shredded leaves as mulch around shrubs and trees. Mulch helps to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Mulch also contributes nutrients to the soil by gradually breaking down over time.
- Cover piles of dirt or mulch being used in landscaping projects to avoid runoff.
- Make sure your lawn service is properly disposing of all your waste.
- Learn more about how yard waste pollutes waterways.