Home and Yard

Rethinking yard care can save time and money. Many sources of urban water pollution originate right at home. Clearly, there is a need to rethink what we're doing at home if urban waters are to be clean and usable.

Whether yard care is your favored hobby or a chore to protect your investment, there are many actions you can take at home that will also protect your lakes and streams. You can have a healthy yard and garden while minimizing environmental problems. More information on rethinking yard care.


Landscape Planning

Proper planning for landscaping helps save time and money. It can also reduce the need for chemicals and increase the amount of rain and snow melt absorbed into the ground. It will also make the yard more attractive and enjoyable.

  • Incorporate natural features that attract beneficial insects and birds.
  • Consider installing a rain garden to direct roof runoff. 
  • Plan a landscape that requires minimal maintenance.
  • Use plants native to this area wherever possible. They are hardier, best suited for our climate, can withstand periods of drought and require less maintenance.
  • Plant an extra tree for multiple environmental benefits, especially where it becomes part of a planting bed or "naturalized" landscape area that recycles leaves, twigs, and other yard "wastes."


Work with Mother Nature instead of against Her. By properly mowing, mulching, and composting leaves and grass clippings, you can reduce fertilizing, watering, and weeding. Grass clippings allowed to remain on lawns instead of being raked or bagged provide nutrients for your turf. Even pests become less of a problem if more "natural diversity" in plantings is used-as opposed to typical urban uniformity-so that susceptible plants are grown farther apart.

  • Mow only those areas that you use on a regular basis. If there are areas of your yard you don’t physically go to, consider landscaping that area with native plants instead of turf.
  • If you have natural or "wild" areas on your property, think twice before deciding to convert them to turf or traditional landscaped areas. Natural areas usually require less time and money to maintain than formal landscapes, and are usually the best at preventing water pollution from runoff. This is especially important for waterfront property.
  • Adjust your mower to a height of at least two and half inches or more.
  • Mow with a sharp blade frequently enough that you can leave grass clippings on the lawn and don’t have to rake.
  • Mulch bare soil as soon as possible to minimize erosion. Disturb no more ground than necessary for a project, while preserving existing vegetation.
  • Aerate compacted soils and apply compost to improve soils, promote infiltration and help grow a thicker, healthier lawn.
  • Get soil tested before applying fertilizers and herbicides to determine what your lawn needs. 
  • If using fertilizers or herbicides, make sure to follow instructions on the label. Timing is everything. Applying the right amount of fertilizers or herbicides at the right time of year when it's most effective can help you minimize use and save you money.
  • Use no-phosphorus fertilizer. Fertilizer labels include three numbers N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium). Make sure the middle number is 0. Most WI lawns do not need additional phosphorus which can runoff and pollute our waters causing excessive algal growth. 
  • More information -UW Extension’s Yard Care Publications
  • Lawns and Water Quality Presentation (UW- Madison 2020) - Learn how landuse and lawn maintenance strategies can impact water quality along with methods you can implement to maintain a healthy lawn while also protecting the water. 

Waterfront Landscapes

Native plants at the water’s edge helps filter pollutants and stabilize the shoreline.



Composting household and yard waste saves you money by reducing the need for expensive commercial soil additives. Compost improves the fertility and health of your soil. Composting turns fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and tea leaves, eggshells, grass clippings, leaves and other yard “waste” into precious fertilizer for your gardens. Recycling these valuable organic resources also saves water by helping the soil hold moisture and minimizes storm water runoff.

Remember to put dairy, meat, bones, lard, mayonnaise, pet waste, oils or fats in the garbage, not your compost.


Composting Resources:

Erosion Control

  • Consider installing a rain garden to help storm water soak in.
  • If your garden is on a slope, plant rows along the contour, rather than up and down the slope. This helps slow runoff and decreases the rate of soil erosion.
  • Spread mulch around your garden plants using compost or grass clippings to help reduce erosion, keep moisture in the soil, suppress weed growth and add nutrients.
  • Build steps of logs or old railroad ties on areas with steep slopes to help prevent erosion. Between steps, spread a thick layer of wood chips to protect the soil.
  • Seed exposed areas with grass or some other groundcover. After seeding spread mulch over the area to help keep the seeds moist and in place until they germinate. On steeper slopes you should cover the mulch with burlap netting for extra protection.
  • Cover piles of soil with tarps to prevent it from blowing or washing away until you are ready to use it.

Leaf Management

Rain Barrels