Backyard Conservation: Lawns and the Environment

4:26 PM, Jun 4, 2012   |    comments
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Be a Conservation Crusader in your own backyard. Did you know you have super hero powers to protect the environment in your community? That's right, and we are going to help Northeast Ohioans activate these powers by sharing things to do and places to visit to raise your environmental IQ.

This month we have one of the easiest household habits you can adopt to reduce your environmental impacts before, during and after rain or snow events.  You can contribute to healthier waters and healthier communities - by caring for and protecting your lawn!

Traditionally our neighborhoods were built to move water away from our houses as quickly as possible, resulting in stream flooding, stream bank erosion and sedimentation, less groundwater recharge, and additional strains on our water treatment plants. Today, the concept of keeping water on site using the power of greenspace is becoming more common. For this reason, the use of green infrastructure is increasing and your lawn is the number one place to start.

Grass is a common plant used in green infrastructure and stormwater control, from riparian strips in agricultural fields, to highway and utility right-of-ways, to parks and backyards. Because of its dense cover and because it comes back every year, a lawn can be extremely effective at reducing sediment and nutrient losses, and the stormwater runoff that often results in flooding. Lawns also increase the soil's ability to soak up water, improve soil structure and water holding capacity, add organic matter, and help to replenish groundwater.

Here's what you need to know:

• The millions of grass plants in your lawn help clean the air, trap dirt, and remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The grass roots and soil microbes act as natural water filter to capture and break down pollutants.

• 90% of the weight of a grass plant is in its roots. This keeps the soil in place to prevent erosion. Lawns are over 2,000 times more effective at preventing erosion than bare soil

• Grass is one of the best ground covers for absorbing water. Healthy grass can absorb most of the runoff from roofs, patios, driveways, sidewalks, and streets that would otherwise go directly into storm sewers, lakes, and streams.


Conservation goes hand-in-hand with good lawn care practices that protect and improve water quality. By using proper feeding and mowing practices, we all can enjoy healthy lawns and clean water for future generations.


Be A Conservation Crusader in Your Own Backyard - Here's What You Can Do:


1. Keep the soil healthy. Healthy soil is the foundation of a good lawn. Healthy soil supports earthworms, microbes and beneficial insects that improve soil structure, air and water flow, and plant growth.

            • For mature grass, always choose a fertilizer that is phosphorus-free, unless a soil test shows a need for this nutrient. Generally, only new grass plants require additional phosphorus for initial root growth.

            • The best time to feed is spring and early fall.  Late fall applications of nitrogen aren't taken up by grass

            • Use a drop spreader or rotary spreader with a side guard to keep fertilizer on the grass and sweep up any fertilizer that ends up on sidewalks or driveways.

2. Mow Smarter.  Set your mower at its highest setting as taller grass is stronger grass. It builds deeper roots that enable the plant to find water and nutrients and better withstand periods of heat and drought.  Taller grass will also out-compete weeds.


            • Use a mulching mower, so that grass clippings can be returned to the soil where they will break down and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

            • In the fall, mulch leaves using your lawn mower. Leaves will break down and enrich the soil.

            • Sweep leaves, grass clippings, and fertilizer that land on driveways and sidewalks back on to the grass to help keep nutrients out of waterways.


3.  Conserve and Protect Water. Conserve water by using rainfall as much as possible to water your lawn. Most of the U.S. receives enough natural rainfall to support grass growth without supplemental water.

            • Let the rain soak in. Direct downspouts out into the lawn, rain gardens, and rain barrels.

            • Its okay to let your established lawn go brown or dormant during a dry spell. Grass plants are resilient and will green up and grow again when the rain returns.

            • Storm sewers often lead directly in streams and lakes. Never dispose of clippings or pet wastes in or around sewers or surface water resources, such as rivers, lakes and streams. Make it a habit to sweep up any fertilizer, grass clippings, and leaves.

            • If your lawn borders water, do not mow or fertilize to the water's edge. Create a buffer zone with uncut grass or other vegetation to prevent soil erosion and make it less attractive to geese.


Follow these common sense tips and be a Conservation Crusader in your own backyard today!  For more information, contact your county Soil and Water Conservation District.


Who's Taking Care of the Lawn?


  • It is estimated that there are 40 million acres of turf grass in the United States.  Of that, approximately 16 million acres are home lawns.  The rest are golf courses, sport fields, parks, and other areas.
  • Of the 80 million single family homes, nearly half of all homeowners do not use fertilizer.  The other half may apply it 1 or 2 times a year.  These DIY homeowners account for about half of the fertilizer applied to home lawns.
  • Approximately 10 million homeowners use a lawn service.  Lawn services tend to apply fertilizer much more often, accounting for the other half of all home fertilizer use.



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