Residents can help support lakes, wetlands, and streams right from the home. These tips and resources help homeowners plan ahead, beautify the yard, and reduce overall maintenance time. We've outlined four goals for residential yard care:
The introduction of pavement, rooftops, and other impermeable surfaces creates new challenges and shortcuts in the water cycle. The more water travels, the more it picks up contaminants and debris, and the less it replenishes groundwater. A single family home can generate thousands of gallons of runoff each year, but by catching water where it falls, we can reduce stress on lakes, streams, and wetlands.
Downspouts: Direct downspouts into grassy areas instead of onto pavement. This can be an easy fix in areas with no basement, or could mean extending a downspout. 10' is the recommended distance between a drainage point and a home foundation.
Build to store water on site: Consider installing a raingarden, bioswale, or permeable pavement to retain runoff and infiltrate it into the ground. Visit our grant programs page to learn how VLAWMO can help fund a project on your property.
Photo: Clean Water MN
Excess nutrients is one of the main causes of poor water quality in the metro, causing strong algae blooms, murky water, and degraded aquatic habitat. To keep excess nutrients out of lakes and wetlands, we must help them stay up on the landscape.
Grass clippings: Direct grass clippings away from the street. This can easily be accomplished by keeping the spray side of the mower (typically the right side) pointing away from pavement for 2-3 passes around the perimeter. Mulch grass clippings into the lawn for free fertilizer, or dispose of them at a designated yard waste compost site or through a yard waste curb side hauler service.
Clean pavement: Sweep or use a blower to keep leaves and grass clippings out of the street and off of pavement. Grass clippings and mulched leaves act as free fertilizer when left on the lawn.
Wash smart: Home car washes are convenient, but send soap, oil, salt, and excess mud to a lake or wetland. Visiting a commercial car wash helps by sending the dirty wash water to a treatment plant. When cars or trucks are especially muddy and need heavy washing, doing so on the lawn or using rolled-up towels across the driveway are easy ways to reduce debris going into runoff. Be sure to fix automotive leaks promptly, as these also wash into waterbodies with stormwater.
Fertilize smart: Fertilize according to a professional soil test. If you must fertilize, do so in the early fall. At this time grass is avidly gathering nutrients to store for winter. This helps reduce the amount of fertilizer that runs off the lawn. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn also serves as a fertilizer, and is effective in spring and summer when growth is active. Avoid weed-and-feed mixes, as these tend to increase runoff of fertilizer and herbicide, striving for convenience rather than the specific needs of the lawn and soil.
Dispose responsibly: Avoid dumping yard waste such as leaves and grass clippings into ditches and wetlands. Although they're natural material and seem innocent, grass clippings, leaves, and yard waste become pollutants in water bodies. Dumping into ditches and wetlands clogs drainage ways, encourages algae blooms, and creates a need for expensive dredging. Instead, dispose of yard waste through a licensed hauler service or at a designated county compost facility. Dumping any material into a storm drain is an illegal illicit discharge.
Sand and soil particles are constantly on the move. As the landscape changes though, the rate at which soil moves can increase, and the end destination is usually a water body. Faster runoff can lead to increased erosion. By covering bare soil and maintaining healthy upland vegetation, we can prevent water from picking up speed, and prevent water bodies from being choked out with sediment. This also helps keep ditches and storm drain systems functioning efficiently, and reduces the amount of contaminants that stick to sediment (oil, antifreeze, automotive brake dust, fertilizers, excess nutrients, etc.). To help reduce erosion and sedimentation into water bodies:
Mowing height: Cut grass at a 3". This reduces erosion and evaporation on the lawn by allowing grass to shade the soil (reducing evaporation) and grow deeper, more stable roots. Deeper roots allow the soil to hold more water before it gets saturated, making more versatile to both wet and dry extremes.
Mowing light: Cut only 1/3 of the blade at a time. Even if the lawn was neglected for a time, cutting extra short to make up for lost time stresses the grass, making it more vulnerable to problems.
Cover bare soil: Be attentive to bare soil and cover it quickly with sod, shrubs, or an arranged planting. When dried out from wind or sun exposure, it is more susceptible to erosion.
Stabilize: Place boulders or trap rock in high velocity runoff areas. This slows down runoff and gives it time to soak into the ground, disperse, and reduce soil damage. Sometimes regrading a slope is needed.
Try longer vegetation: Prior to European settlement, perennial vegetation (prairie, wet meadow, marshes, etc.) worked as infrastructure for the water cycle. Prairie and wet meadows move water slowly, filter it, and store it to reduce downstream impacts. While traditional lawns and development have their advantages, VLAWMO strives to achieve clean water and storage benefits by also re-integrating perennial vegetation into our built community. Where feasible, features such as deep-rooted native plants, lo-mow lawns, ground covers, and prairie and shoreline restorations can be an asset to both homeowners and the watershed. Low traffic and hard to maintain places are often rich with other opportunities besides turf grass. Visit our cost-share web page to learn more about these types of projects and to get funding for a project of your own. Examples can be found on our our articles page. See the Blue Thumb link (right) for more on native plants.
Photo: Clean Water MN
Keep off the pavement: Set sprinklers and irrigation systems so that they don't spray onto pavement. Fix errant sprinkler heads that are spraying onto pavement or contact an irrigation professional to request a fix.
Timing: Water plants and grass early in the morning or in the evening to reduce evaporation.
Water just enough: Account for rainfall in weekly watering. Turf grass typically only needs 1" of lawn per week. In many cases, municipal odd/even watering bans encourage more watering than necessary due to the assumption that watering must occur on certain days.
Shorter sessions: Divide typical watering time in half, and water twice. Two short sessions prevent saturation, which causes less water to run off the lawn. A few hours between watering sessions helps the lawn hold water.
Keep it on the down-low: Select sprinklers that reduce evaporation and wind drift. These are sprinklers that keep water low to the ground and disperse water in a stream rather than a mist.
Know when you're overboard: Watch for over-watering. Grass that's mushy underfoot, has a musty odor, or sprouts mushrooms, moss, or mold are signs of this issue.
Stay sharp: Avoid a "set it and forget it" strategy. As the summer goes on, rain patterns change. Adjust irrigation systems weekly according to rainfall, and cut back on days of watering as temperatures decrease. Turf grass naturally goes dormant in the late summer; consider allowing a brown, dry look at this time and it will green up again when rain returns.
Store and re-use: Install a rainbarrel to re-use rainwater on garden plants. VLAWMO will reimburse 50% of a rainbarrel for residents in the watershed - visit our grant programs to learn more.
Check out this turf and irrigation video for more information.
Use the fridge: Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator to reduce run time as water gets cold.
Fix leaks: Leaky sinks, toilets, and pipes can waste up to 90 gallons of water each day.
On/off control: Keep water off when brushing teeth, use when needed.
Dishes: Only run a full load of dishes. Skipping the extra rinse is often adequate and saves water.
Simple tools: Install faucet aerators and low-flow shower heads.
Shop smart: Watch for the WaterSense logo when purchasing devices and home appliances.
Learn about salt and softening: Visit the MPCA Water Softening page for tips on how to manage your home water softener with water quality in mind. Small amounts of leftover water softening salt should be disposed of in the trash. Visit Ramsey County's disposal guide for more on water softeners: Water Softeners.
Using Salt Wisely: 8.5 x 11 flyer
Salt Pollutes our Water: Picture
Smart Salting for Clean Water: 11 x 17 poster
Clean Water Landscaping: 11 x 17 poster
Practical Plantings: Simple ground covers and bulky, unified plantings to help fill space. A great way to plant in hard to reach or hard to mow places when complexity isn't of interest.
Wet Soil Specialists: Plants to help wet areas appear intentional, avoid die-off from inundation, and benefit wildlife
Green Up Your Lawn (not lakes and rivers)
BMP supplier list: A general plant provider reference guide for homeowners - VLAWMO does not support or promote any particular plant supplier or contractor. Contact VLAWMO if you are a business and would like to be included on this list.
Blue Thumb: Native plant selection tools
Clean Water MN: News, articles, and resources
Freshwater: Programs, news, and resources
MPCA: State reports, programs, and publications
University of Minnesota Soil Testing Lab
Septic System Resources
East Metro Water: Tips and Tales about Keeping Water Clean
H2O for Life: A local non-profit with local and global scope
State of the Mississippi River