Thursday, June 20, 2019
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Tips for Healthy Yards & Clean Waters

How we manage the land in a watershed is important to the area’s water quality, even if your property is far away from a body of water.  Your land is the part of a bigger ecosystem that you can control.  Having a healthy yard – one that allows waters that fall onto it to soak into the ground – can help filter pollutants and reduce or eliminate runoff that can carry soil and other contaminants into area waterways.  Here are some easy tips for you to obtain a healthy yard:


  • Analyze where runoff goes on your property and slow it down, soak it in and let it recharge the groundwater.
  • If you have rain gutters, disconnect them from established piping systems or road ditches.  Direct their outflow to your lawn or a rain garden to keep as much runoff out of storm drains and ditches as possible.
  • Driveways should also drain towards the lawn rather than to the street to reduce runoff from your property.
  • When replacing or building new paved surfaces, consider using more permeable materials to allow more water to soak in.
  • Consider using a rain barrel where possible, and use the rain water on your lawn and in your garden.  (Not only will this help reduce runoff, but it will also save you money on your water bill!)

Lawn Care - Can You Do Less?

  • Keep your lawn to a height of 3 inches or more.  Taller grass has deeper and healthier roots, fights weeds better and can absorb water better too.
  • Keep your mower blades sharp.  Dull blades tear the grass, which causes it to lose 30% more water and makes it more susceptible to disease.
  • Avoid over-watering your yard to help reduce runoff and prevent damaging the root structure of plants and grass.
  • Consider using a no-mow lawn seed mix in any areas that are not used for foot traffic to reduce mowing, watering and fertilizing.  (see one here:
  • Do not use fertilizers containing phosphorus.  For most yards, the only time fertilizer is needed is when new grass is planted. Unnecessary fertilizing provides nutrients to be picked up by runoff and eventually feeds the weeds and algae in the lake.  
  • If you feel you must improve your lawn, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension (716-664-9502) to have your lawn tested to determine what chemicals it really needs.

Grass Clippings & Leaf Removal

  • NEVER deposit grass clippings or leaves into a storm drain, along the shoreline of a stream or lake or into a stream or lake itself.
  • After mowing, leave the grass clippings in the yard.  Since grass is 80% water, 10% fiber and 10% the same elements found in a balanced fertilizer, they can help fertilize your lawn naturally.  Use a mulching mower to help eliminate the appearance of left-over grass clippings.
  • You can also use a mulching mower on leaves.  As long as there are not too many, allow mulched leaves to become natural fertilizer for your lawn.

Insecticides & Herbicides

  • Never use insecticides or herbicides unless the problem justifies its usage – about 75% of lawn insecticide applications in New York State are unnecessary or ineffective.
  • When feasible, use a hand-held spray container to individually treat a weed or pest and eliminate the need for an all-over application.
  • Avoid the use of combination “weed and feed” products.  Both are not usually needed, and native plant specialists recommend against the use of these products because they cannot discriminate between harmful and helpful species.


  • Replace unneeded or unused areas of existing lawn with native plantings.  Native, perennial plants have root systems as deep as they are tall, so more runoff will be slowed down, more nutrients will be absorbed and more soil will be held in place.  They also require less water once established, require no fertilizer, are more disease resistant and provide the correct habitat for many species.  (A list of native plant species recommended for the Chautauqua region can be found here.)
  • Consider adding a rain garden in any area that collects water when it rains.  Rain garden plants soak up excess water and then are dry, lovely gardens the rest of the time.
  • Use mulch around garden plants and trees to help retain water, reduce weeds and minimize the use of pesticides.
  • Be sure to repair lawn damage, such as thinning or bare spots, in order to keep weeds from invading those areas and to minimize soil erosion and runoff.

Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy
413 North Main Street
Jamestown, NY 14701