The Clean Water Blog

Bioswales like this help control storm water bring the beauty of nature to Providence College’s urban campus. Photo By Dave Everett

It’s Fall! Here are Some Tips for a Healthy Fall Lawn and Gardens While Protecting Our Water!

In pursuit of creating a beautiful lawn and garden, many people unknowingly contaminate nearby lakes, rivers, and streams with fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. As we prepare our lawns and gardens for winter, you should know that what you do in your yard has a direct and indirect effect on the quality of our water. How long you cut your grass, how often you cut it, how much water and fertilizer you use and what you do with the grass clippings all affect the amount of pollution that ends up in our water. Many simple and easy solutions can improve water quality while simultaneously improving the health of your lawn and garden as well as provide habitat for important critters in your neighborhood.

Here are some tips to do just that:

Test your soil to limit the amount of fertilizer used (if any is needed); time it right

  • You may not need as much fertilizer as you think. You can buy a testing kit at your local hardware store or get it done professionally.
  • If you choose to fertilize or hire a service, do it in the fall when it is most effective—well before the ground freezes so it will help your soil and not run off into the nearest storm drain, and never before heavy rains.
  • Many lawn services will only apply fertilizer if they test and you need it.  Some will use Integrated Pest Management to reduce poisonous chemical use on your lawn.  For more information about one of these companies, check out our Profiles in Prevention on our website.
  • If you choose to fertilize, it is very important to sweep up any excess that falls on hard surface so it doesn’t runoff to the closest water which could contribute to more algae in your lake.

Plant Trees

  • Fall is a great time to plant and maintain your trees.  You might need to apply a “root booster” to get the tree established before the cold winter months.  Also, you will probably want to add a little more mulch to protect the new roots.
  • Trees deep roots allow water to infiltrate soil where it can be used by plants and recharge aquifers.
  • The additional shade and wind barrier can also reduce heating and cooling costs for your home.

Be Water Wise:

  • Lawns generally require one inch of water per week. Use a rain gauge to determine how much (if any) extra water your lawn needs between rainfalls.
  • Making sure you’re only watering your lawn, not hard surfaces. This wasted water will gather other pollutants on the surface and run directly to the nearest storm drain and then into the closest water body.

Plant a Rain Garden

  • It’s not too late in the season to plant a rain garden.  Again, you may want to use a little “root booster” to get your plants established before the cold months and again, add a little more mulch for protection.
  • Rain gardens collect storm water and other runoff from roofs and driveways and act as a natural collector, filtering rainwater and allowing the recharge of groundwater aquifers.
  • Replacing part of your lawn with native perennials leads to less water runoff, mowing and chemical use.
  • Rain gardens also increase wildlife habitat, especially for birds, butterflies and other pollinators.
  • For more information on rain gardens visit Metro Blooms ( They offer workshops to teach homeowners how to design and install rain gardens.  Or, visit Blue Thumb (  They have examples of rain garden projects, a video of how to build a rain garden, project cost calculator and a comprehensive guide on designing and installing rain gardens for the upper Midwest region.

Fall is a great time to get out and work in the yard or garden.  Enjoying the colors nature provides and breathing in the crisp, fresh air.  It sometimes seems like in Minnesota we only have a handful of months to get outside and enjoy our lawns and gardens.  Try some of the suggestions above in your  as this growing season comes to an end.  Each decision we make in our backyards adds up.  If you make the right choice, your neighbor makes the right choice, and everyone in our community makes the right choice to protect our water, we’ll all be able to better enjoy our beautiful lakes, rivers, and streams here in Minnesota.