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Extension > Garden > SULIS > Maintenance > Sustainable Lawncare Information Series > Understanding and Using Lawn Fertilizers > Lawn Fertilizer Practices and their Potential to Impact Water Quality

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Lawn Fertilizer Practices and their Potential to Impact Water Quality

Improper management and use of turf fertilizers can contribute to pollution of both surface water and groundwater. Avoiding over-application or misapplication of these materials, and basing lawn nutrient requirements on a reliable soil test, are the first steps in responsibly using fertilizers to protect water resources. Combining appropriate landscape management practices with a modest turf fertilization program may further reduce potential water pollution. Following are some additional general fertilization practices that can reduce water pollution from fertilizers.

  1. Never directly deposit or inadvertently apply fertilizers into lakes.
  2. Number 1


  3. Fill fertilizer spreaders on a hard surface where spills can be cleaned up easily. NEVER wash fertilizer spills into the street or other hard-surface areas where fertilizer can enter storm sewers and ultimately surface water.
  4. Number 2


  5. Close the gate on the fertilizer spreader when crossing hard-surface areas or go back and sweep up the material for reuse.
  6. Number 3


  7. Never apply fertilizer to frozen ground.
  8. Clippings not left on lawn, leaves and other plant debris should be removed as soon as possible from street gutters, sidewalks, and driveways. This plant material can be composted, used in the garden as mulch, or disposed of through appropriate community services.
  9. Number 5


  10. When mowing lawns, do not direct clippings into the street or lake.
  11. Number 6


  12. Drop spreaders are more precise but slower than rotary spreaders. Near shoreline areas, apply fertilizer near the lake with a drop spreader to create a buffer zone. Then you can fertilize the area away from the shoreline with a rotary spreader. Take the same precautions when using liquid applications.
  13. Drop Spreader
    Drop spreader.
    Rotary Spreader
    Rotary spreader.


  14. Avoid getting fertilizer into natural drainage areas or pathways on a property. These may not necessarily be hard-surface areas. Fertilizer can be carried directly into surface water or storm sewers before it has a chance to infiltrate into the surrounding turf/soil area. It is important to keep the grass healthy and growing in these areas for their ability to slow runoff and allow greater and deeper moisture infiltration into the soil.
  15. Number 8


  16. For shoreline areas, try to leave a buffer zone of unmanaged grasses, or possibly natural vegetation, around the shoreline. This natural area helps prevent erosion from adjacent shore land, and may retain nutrients that would otherwise go into the lake.
  17. Number 9



Protecting surface water and groundwater is not something to be taken lightly. Neglecting lawn areas for fear of introducing nutrients and pesticides into water supplies is not a way to protect these resources either. Properly maintaining turfgrass areas with appropriate but modest use of fertilizers and pesticides will do more to protect water resources than to hurt them.

Back to Understanding and Using Lawn Fertilizers.

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