Backyard Conservation: Best practices for lawn care

August is National Water Quality Month and you can celebrate by applying best management practices on your lawn. Grass is a great ground cover for absorbing water. Healthy grass can soak up most of the runoff from roofs, patios, driveways, sidewalks, and streets that would otherwise flow into storm sewers and road ditches and then into our streams, rivers, and lakes. In addition, grass roots and soil microbes serve as a natural filter to capture and break down pollutants in surface water runoff.

Here are some ideas you can try at home:

For mature grass, always choose a fertilizer that is phosphorus free, unless a soil test indicates otherwise. Generally, only new grass plants need additional phosphorus for initial root growth. Visit Ohio State University Extension’s to find fact sheets on turfgrass, lawns, and soil testing.

The best time to feed your lawn in our area is in late summer and fall. This promotes summer recovery, enhances shoot density, maximizes green color, and prepares the turf for winter, all without a growth surge. Use a drop spreader or rotary spreader with a side guard to keep fertilizer on the grass and off impervious surfaces. Fertilizing Established Cool-season Lawns from Purdue University can be accessed at

Set your mower at its highest setting. Tall grass is stronger grass — it builds deeper roots that help find water and nutrients and enables the plants to better withstand summer’s periods of heat and drought. When grass is mowed too short, the plants do not have enough energy stored to maintain health and will put all of their effort into growing grass blades. This leads to an increased mowing frequency. Short grass blades allow more sun to reach the soil surface which can cause weeds to germinate.

Use a mulching mower. Grass clippings break down and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. You can also use your lawn mower to mulch the leaves that fall on your lawn, which will also enrich your soil.

Make it a habit to sweep up grass clippings and leaves from any hard surfaces and return them to the turf so they don’t wash into streets, ditches, and storm drains. Nitrogen and phosphorus from clipping and leaves can cause algal blooms in our streams, rivers, and lakes.

Conserve water by using rainfall as much as possible to water your lawn. It is okay to let your established lawn go dormant during a dry spell. The top of the leaf blades will start to roll and the roots will grow deeper into the soil searching for water. Drought conditioned lawns with deep root systems are better able to withstand environmental stress. Even though the grass may look brown, it will recuperate when the rains return.

We usually don’t think too much about grass except when it comes time to mow. However, a healthy lawn with its dense cover and growth habit as a perennial plant, helps reduce sediment, nutrient losses, and stormwater runoff while also increasing infiltration of the soil, improving soil structure and water holding capacity, adding organic matter, and helping to replenish groundwater. According to the National Association of Conservation Districts, it is estimated there are 40 million acres of turfgrass in the United States. Lawns are an integral part of our landscape and play a vital role in protecting our soil and water resources. You can join the effort by implementing sustainable lawn care practices and know you are helping to do your part for clean water!

For other great conservation ideas, please visit our website at We hope to see you at the Delaware County Fair.

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By Bonnie Dailey

Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District

Bonnie Dailey is the deputy administrator of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District.