Yard Care

Many common yard care products become pollution when rainwater carries them to our streams, lakes, and rivers. But you can easily care for your yard safely and have beautiful, green results! Here’s how.

First, if there is a watercourse, even just a ditch, in your backyard, check out our fact sheet on Protecting Water Quality in Your Backyard (PDF) by maintaining greenery. Vegetation around wetlands (swamps), watercourses, and ditches is especially beneficial.

Green lawn care

If you have a lawn, it’s important to know what kind of grass you have and how to care for it. Watering, timing and amount of fertilizer, and light requirements vary by species. NCSU TurfFiles website can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about turf and how to take care of it.

Always test your soil before applying fertilizer to see if your grass actually needs to be fed – the state of NC will analyze your soil sample for free (PDF)! Unnecessary fertilizing costs money and is actually bad for your turf. Get it done early so you have your results before the time feed your grass.

  • Leave grass clippings on your lawn and/or use a mulching blade on your mower. Grass clippings are a natural, nontoxic fertilizer.
  • If you don’t want to leave clippings on the lawn, compost them or dispose of them in your municipal yard waste collection.
  • Don’t put grass clippings or other yard waste into street curbs or ditches. Yard waste washes into waterways and feeds problem-causing algae.
  • If you want to remove vegetation next to a stream or ditch and your local government has told you that it is legal to do so, it is still best if you don’t mow within 10 feet of the waterway. Do any clearing of vegetation by hand, leaving larger trees and bushes, and their root systems, in place.

If you fertilize…

  • P-free (phosphorous-free) fertilizer might be a good choice, unless a soil test shows that the soil under your turf is lacking in P.
  • Sweep up ANY fertilizer that falls on hard (impervious) surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks.
  • Avoid combination “weed & feed” products; instead, choose products that target the specific issue you want to address.
  • Use slow-release nitrogen fertilizers or organic compost
  • Store products so that they won’t get wet or leak.
  • Aerate the lawn with an aerator before applying any soil amendments. Aerating breaks up thatch, results in much higher seed germination, and improves the lawn’s ability to hold water and nutrients. Aerate lawns right before your turf’s growing season and fertilizing. For fescue and bluegrass, this is in the fall. Bermuda could be done in Spring.
  • Dispose of any extra fertilizer at your local hazardous household waste (HHHW) recycling center. Contact your local government to find out locations and hours.

Use caution with herbicides and pesticides

  • Learn about how to care for your yard safely here. Homeowners with wells should be especially careful.
  • Consider natural and nontoxic alternatives to pesticides.
  • Apply chemical substances VERY sparingly and in a targeted way.
  • Follow package instructions and consider the recommended amount the MAXIMUM to apply.
  • Store products so that they won’t get wet or leak.
  • Clean up any spills immediately.
  • DO NOT APPLY if the forecast calls for rain. If it rains, products will wash off into waterways before it has a chance to work.
  • Dispose of extra chemicals at your local hazardous household waste (HHHW) recycling center. Contact your local government to find out locations and hours.

Use less potable water for irrigation

  • Use native and drought-resistant plants.
  • Collect rainwater in a rain barrel or cistern for outdoor use. Here’s a fact sheet on how to harvest water for outdoor irrigation (PDF) or visit this NCSU website on rainwater harvesting for lots more info.
  • If you use rain barrels for irrigation, fertilizer may not be necessary because rainwater contains more nutrients than potable water.
  • Don’t over-water your lawn. If you use a sprinkler, you can measure how much water has been put out with a tuna can. An inch per week is sufficient.
  • Water during the cooler times of day to minimize evaporation.
  • Turn off automatic sprinklers for a couple of days if it rains.
  • Comply with your local government’s water restrictions during droughts.

Landscaping

  • Consider alternatives to turf that offer more environmental and wildlife benefits in your landscape.
  • Use mulch instead of herbicides. Mulch naturally prevents weeds and reduces water loss.
  • Select drought-resistant and native plants and grasses. Native plants require less water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
  • Create a “rain garden” to collect and treat runoff before it leaves your property.
    This web page teaches about rain gardens.
    Build a rain garden in eight simple steps.
  • Leave vegetated and wooded areas in their natural state, especially along streams and ditches.

Visit EPA’s environmentally friendly landscaping web site to learn more.

Safe maintenance of your home’s exterior

  • Sweep up debris in your driveway instead of hosing it down. Storm drains go directly to our waterways without treatment. Even plain dirt can pollute our streams!
  • Pick up any litter so it doesn’t blow into streams or storm drains.
  • Drain swimming pools only when chlorine is not detected by a swimming pool test kit.
  • Direct water from your home’s downspouts to vegetated areas or rain barrels, which store runoff for future use.
  • NEVER dump chemicals, paints, motor oil, etc. into storm drains. These substances need to be taken to your local hazardous household waste (HHHW) recycling center. Contact your local government to find out locations and hours.

Additional Resources

Wake County Water Wise info on lawns and gardens

NC Cooperative Extension lawn & garden info and services

N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources lawn & garden info

U.S. EPA info on landscaping and lawn care

This Home*A*Syst Stormwater Quiz is an easy self-assessment that can show you how to reduce stormwater pollution around your home and yard.

A great guide from the NC Division of Water Quality with things you can do to prevent pollution (PDF)