BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - On a per-acre basis, home lawns affect streams, rivers and lakes more than most farming operations, said a University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist. However, homeowners can be more environmentally responsible by managing stormwater runoff and using proper lawn care techniques.

“Improperly applied nutrients and pesticides can contaminate runoff from lawns and degrade nearby bodies of water,” said Marlin Bates. “Stormwater runoff is a primary factor in water quality because storm drains and sewers readily channel it to the nearest body of water, typically bypassing any water treatment facility.”

Bates recommends simple measures to decrease your property’s potential to contribute to stormwater pollution:

-Start by determining the square footage of your lawn, which you need to calculate the appropriate application rate for fertilizers and pesticides.

-Gauge your lawn’s nutrient needs by submitting a soil sample to your local MU Extension Center every two to three years. For more information, see

-Use a drop spreader to apply fertilizers and pesticides to prevent them from concentrating along fences or spreading beyond the lawn. If you prefer to use a rotary spreader, make a habit of sweeping the excess from the driveway and sidewalk after chemical applications.

-Mow high, setting mower blades to a height of 3 inches for cool-season grasses such as tall fescue and bluegrass and 2.5 inches for warm-season grasses such as zoysia and Bermuda grass. Taller grass plants have well-developed root systems, which reduces irrigation needs in the summer. Mowing high blocks sunlight and prevents weed seeds from germinating, reducing herbicide needs.

-Don't bag grass clippings. “Decomposing clippings can return up to 30 percent of your lawn’s annual nitrogen needs and up to 50 percent of its potassium needs,” Bates said. Clippings also contribute to soil organic matter content, which will improve the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of the soil.


For more information, see these MU Extension publications:

-“Soil Testing for Lawns” (G6954),

-“How to Manage and Control Storm Water Runoff” (EQM102F),