Healthy Lawncare Practice

One of the leading factors contributing to this problem is the improper use and application of lawn fertilizer.  The nutrient in fertilizer that is commonly associated with this problem is phosphorus.  Generally, phosphorus is the limiting nutrient in freshwater aquatic systems.  It typically functions as the “growth-limiting” factor because it is usually present in very low concentrations.  Any excess phosphorus is quickly removed from the aquatic system by algae and larger aquatic plants causing extensive growth. 

It is common for someone to look at their small yard and try to rationalize that any lawn care practice preformed on their small piece of land will have no adverse affect on the environment.  However, they fail to realize that the cumulative effect of such actions can be devastating to the environment.  Studies have revealed that approximately 55% of the phosphorous that enters our waterways from residential neighborhoods comes from that thick green turf that surrounding our homes. 

Currently the EPA is in the process of developing national criteria that will specify the maximum daily allowance for a number of nutrients, including phosphorus and nitrogen, for lakes, rivers, streams and reservoirs.  Many local municipalities are already addressing this problem by education the public, some have even taken a more proactive approach by passing resolutions and ordinances limiting and even prohibiting fertilizers that contain high concentrations of phosphorus.

The amount of phosphorus and other nutrients that reach our precious waters can be significantly reduced, if people follow some of the basic lawn care practices listed below:

  • Mow Grass High. Leave 3” on the grass blade after cutting.  Tall grass promotes root growth and shades out weeds.  Let short clips fall back into the lawn.  Clippings recycle nitrogen back into the soil, so fertilizer can be reduced by 25% or more.
  • Don’t Guess…Soil Test! Take advantage of the MSU soil Nutrition Service for the “package price” of $12.00- - only available at participating retailers.  For a list of participating retailers in Southeast Oakland County, contact SOWWA at 248-288-5150 or
  • Select Slow-Release Fertilizers. Select a fertilizer with 40% or more of the nitrogen in slow-release form. Slow release fertilizers gradually release nitrogen to plant roots, thereby protecting rivers, lakes and streams and promoting steady growth of the grass.  Select a fertilizer with low phosphorus for no phosphorus for additional water quality protecting.  Exceptions are new lawns and/or phosphorus applications supported by soil test results.
Lawn Fertilizers (partial list)
Clean Green Soy Fertilizer 7 – 0 – 0
Corn Gluten Meal 9 – 0 – 0
Fertrell Lawn Fertilizer 9 – 1 – 4
Greenview - Low Phosphorus 26 – 4 – 12
Greenview – Zero Phosphorus 27 – 0 – 12
Pursell’s Sta-Green 31 – 2 – 4
Ringer Lawn Restore 10 – 2 – 6
TruGreen Scenic Green 25 – 0 – 11
Vigoro Lawn Fertilizer 29 – 3 – 4

Look for the green sticker! GreenSticker

  • Leave A “No Fertilizer” Buffer Zone Near Rivers, Lakes, Streams & Wetlands. The recommended width for “no fertilizer” buffers is 1- to 25 feet, depending on the slope.  Instead, plant native wildflowers, grasses, or shrubs to trap pollutants and discourage geese.
  • Do Not Fertilize Before May. If you have fertilized in the fall, you will have a green lawn in the early spring – and won’t need to fertilize before May.  Do not spread fertilizer if the ground is frozen.
  • Sweep Up Fertilizer From Paved Surfaces. Fertilizers left on sidewalks, driveways, streets, and parking areas can easily wash into storm drains, rivers, and lakes.  If possible, use a drop spreader – not a rotary spreader.  Sweep fertilizer form all paved surfaces back onto the lawn.
  • Measure The Lawn Before Your Fertilize. Measure the actual lawn area – excluding gardens and pavement.  Read labels on the fertilizer bag to determine the total amount of fertilizer needed for the square footage of your lawn.  The application rate recommended by most fertilizer companies (and by SOCWA Healthy Lawn Program) is one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
  • Avoid Weed-and-Feed Combination Products. Combination fertilizer and weed control products often add unnecessary herbicides to the landscape.  A better approach is to identify the weed of concern and selectively spot treat the weed(s).
  • Use Sifted Compost As A Top Dressing. Spread ½ inch of compost over an established lawn.  Rake into the lawn, leaving ½ of the grass blade exposed to sunlight and air.  Compost adds microorganisms, nutrients, and organic matter to help build fertile soil.

Following these simple practices can greatly reduce the amount of nutrients that reach our rivers, lakes and streams, thereby protecting and enhancing these water bodies for recreational use and wildlife habitat.

For additional information on lawn care, please visit the following sites:

Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority at

University of Illinois Extension at

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