How you can help keep Lake Champlain clean:

Lawn Care Without Fertilizer

When fertilizer is over-applied, it tends to get washed into our streams, lakes, and rivers during storms by way of stormwater runoff.

You can nurture your lawn without fertilizer by using a variety of natural techniques. This approach is good for the planet as fertilizer can wreak havoc on waterways, causing toxic algae blooms that harm aquatic life, people, and pets. With the right combination of persistence and patience, you’ll encourage new blade growth, see fewer weeds, and help promote a healthier environment.

Don’t guess, soil test!

Testing your soil is easy and determines whether your soil needs any supplements. Unnecessary use of fertilizers and pesticides contribute to water pollution When you fertilize without needing to, you actually help things grow in the lake instead of in your lawn or garden.

Five Tips to Help Care for your Lawn without Fertilizers

Mow Your Leaves

You can mow fallen leaves by using a mulching attachment that cuts leaves into small pieces.

Fallen leaves that are left untouched will suffocate your grass and encourage the growth of fungi spores and insects. Leaf mulch can offer some protection and add nutrients to your lawn without doing damage.

Continue Cutting Your Grass Until the First Frost

Grass will keep growing as long as the weather is warm enough. Blade growth stops once temperatures dip below about 50 degrees during the day—typically in late October or early November in Vermont.

It’s important to keep mowing your lawn until the first frost because, without a pre-winter cut, your yard can develop moldy fungus. Ultimately, grass should be between 2 and 2.5 inches high by winter, but be sure not to cut off more than one-third at one time during each mow.

As fall settles in, remember to raise your mower’s blades to a half-inch above your summer mowing height. However, keep in mind that for the last mow of the season—before the first frost—you should lower the blades to a half-inch below the typical summer mowing height. This option encourages root growth and removes grass blades from becoming damaged or diseased in the winter.

Spread Grass Seed

Seeding your lawn in the fall is optimal because the combination of warm soil, moderate daytime temperatures, and cool night air encourage the seed to take root. Cool-season grass seed works best when soil temperatures range from 50 to 60 degrees. And if you need help determining when to seed, use a soil thermometer to figure out the best timing.

When shopping for grass seed, use grass seed labeled for “cool season” or “cool weather.” Spread the grass seed over your lawn and evenly distribute it so you won’t have clumps of grass later.

Keeping Weeding

Unfortunately, the job of weeding doesn’t go away at summer’s end. Continuing to weed in the fall will keep your lawn healthy during the colder months. Common weeds found in grass include dandelions, moss, white clover, and crabgrass. Some weeds go dormant in cold weather, but their seeds usually wait to germinate in the spring. For larger weeds, use a weeding tool to help you pull out the weeds and their roots.

Aerate Your Lawn

Aerating your lawn increases the circulation of air, water, and nutrients. Aeration also reduces soil compaction and runoff. When you aerate in the fall, make sure the soil is moist enough. Try aerating the day after a rain shower or watering your lawn the day before.

After you aerate your lawn, let soil plugs or extra soil dry where they fall. The plugs will eventually break down in the rain or the next time you mow, adding a layer of soil and organic matter to your lawn surface.

Other Helpful Tips

  • If you apply fertilizers, do it in late summer, around Labor Day, not in the spring! Plants are able to better use the nutrients to grow stronger roots, giving you a greener lawn in the spring.
  • If rain is forecasted, do not apply fertilizers or pesticides.
  • Don’t overwater your lawn. Consider using a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler.
  • Use organic or non-toxic pesticides and fertilizers sparingly and as directed. Keep them away from ditches, gutters and storm drains. Store them in a covered area, off the ground, to prevent contact with water.
  • Compost and mulch yard waste. Don’t leave it in the street or sweep it into storm drains or streams.
  • Don’t blow, sweep, rake or hose yard waste into the street gutter or storm drain.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn or compost them.

To learn more lawn care tips that keep your lawn green while protecting our waters and Lake Champlain, check out

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