Lawn Care Best Management Practices

Consider lawn care without pesticides or fertilizers and use native grasses and plants. See the Cornell resource below titled “lawn care without pesticides.”

Leave grass clippings on the lawn. They return nutrients to the soil, thereby reducing the need to fertilize.  If you have a lake, pond, or stream on your property; establish a buffer zone between your lawn and the water to prevent the grass clippings from getting into the water.  Allow the vegetation in the buffer zone to grow tall so that it filters out pollutants.

Do not put leaves or grass clippings in locations where they will wash into the road, ditch or local waterbodies. Grass clippings are high in phosphorus, which is a major pollutant in our waterbodies.

Never put leaves or grass clippings in streams or other waterbodies!


If using fertilizers and/or pesticides, some practices to follow are:

  • Never apply fertilizers or pesticides before a rainfall is forecasted. The chemicals you apply will be washed away, polluting local waterbodies.


  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using pesticides, including weed control materials (herbicides) on your lawn or garden. Fertilize your lawn based on soil test results to know exactly how much to apply. Don’t apply a double dose; this only increases the amount that could get washed away.


  • When applying, be careful not to apply fertilizer to the driveway or sidewalk. These chemicals will easily be washed into the street and storm drains. Granular fertilizers on these impervious surfaces should be swept up.


  • Check the fertilizer label before buying your lawn fertilizer. The fertilizer analysis (the numbers on the bab (for example 20-2-15) represent the amount of nitrogen (first number), phosphorus (second number), and potassium (third number) in the bag. If you do use a fertilizer, choose one that contains about 70 percent slow-release nitrogen, which provides nitrogen to the grass slowly and is less likely to leach through the soil and reach groundwater or move off-site.


  • Remember, the best way to determine what fertilizers you need is to have your soil tested pre-application. (


  • Avoid fertilizing in early-spring; focus on fertilizing in the fall, if needed. Apply no more than   1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.


Remember that using a fertilizer that a plant does not need, or applying fertilizers or pesticides beyond the recommended dose, is harmful and a waste of money! Excess chemicals will probably be washed away by stormwater.


*Refer to Cornell University’s Gardening Resources Page for more information on fertilizing lawns.  



Proper mowing gives grass an advantage over weeds and helps keep your lawn healthy. Proper mowing will help encourage good (thick, dense) turf growth and reduce the need for pesticide applications.

Take a look at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s recommendations at:

Cornell suggests setting your lawn mower to trim grass to a 3-inch height or higher. This encourages a larger root system tha can reach more water and nutrients in the soil. The smaller the root system, the more vulnerable the lawn is to drought, insects, and weeds. Shorter lawns also require more frequent fertilization.


Additional Resources

Cornell has a publication titled “Lawn Care without Pesticides” it can be found at:

Cornell has a list of quick lawn tips at:

Cornell’s lawn care home page can be found at:

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