Be LakeWise for your Lawns and Yards

When it rains, water runs across your lawn and yard and picks up phosphorus pollution from pet waste, fertilizers, and dirt. The water flows untreated into ditches, storm drains, or streams that enter rivers and lakes where we swim and fish. 

You can make a difference. A few simple changes in your lawn and yard practices can prevent pollution and help you become LakeWise Certified. These five actions complete the LakeWise Clear Choices Checklist for lawns and yards.  

1. Scoop the poop, bag it and throw it in the trash

This isn't Las Vegas. What your dog does in your yard doesn’t stay in your yard. 

Pet waste contains harmful bacteria and parasites like fecal coliform, salmonella, E. coli and roundworms. These pathogens may hang around in your yard for weeks and furry paws can bring them into your home. Rain also washes pathogens into our lakes where we swim, fish and play.

Your dog's poop may seem like a small problem, but we have more than 157,000 dogs in Snohomish County. Every day, they produce the same amount of untreated waste as 40,000 people - that's the population size of Edmonds! 

Scoop the poop, bag it, put it in the trash - this is the safest way to ditch the poop.

  • Burying the poop isn’t good since bacteria can survive for years in the soil and may contaminate nearby wells.
  • Composting poop at home doesn’t work since household bins don’t get hot enough to kill hazardous bacteria. 
  • Even commercial yard waste facilities do not compost at temperatures sufficient to kill many pathogens found in pet waste. 

What about horses, chickens, or other pets? 

Consult the Snohomish Conservation District for the best way to handle manure and prevent it from polluting your local waters. Be sure to keep chicken coops as far away from the water as possible. Click here to learn more and find additional resources. 

2. Attend a natural lawn care workshop  - have a beautiful yard the natural way

Do you love lush green lawns but don’t like using so many pesticides, fertilizers, and extra water? By switching to natural lawn care techniques, you can have a yard that’s beautiful, easier to maintain, and safe and healthy for your family, pets, and lake.

LakeWise natural lawn care workshops are led by professional lawn care experts where you will learn:

  • Tools to have a healthy lawn without extra pesticides and chemicals.
  • Tips to deal with moss, moles, and other pests the natural way.

Workshops are held in spring and fall - see side panel for dates and registration links. Learn more about Natural Yard Care including resources on healthy soils, plants, watering, and composting.

3. Skip lawn fertilizer or go phosphorus-free

The good news is that established lawns don't need phosphorus to look and grow beautifully. Soils in Snohomish County are typically rich in phosphorus. 

It's best to use natural lawn care practices and skip fertilizer altogether, but the next best option is to choose phosphorus-free fertilizers. 

Fertilizer bags will have three numbers that list the content of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Find phosphorus-free by looking for a “zero in the middle” of the bag’s label. 

Fertilizer label showing Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium levels

Over the past few years, most producers have removed phosphorus from lawn fertilizer, but be careful if you’re buying pasture fertilizers and plant feed. Some still contain phosphorus. 

Whatever product you use, follow the label instructions and don’t apply more fertilizer than recommended. Clean up any extra fertilizer. View the Snohomish Conservation District "Know Your Soils" booklet for an introduction to soil testing and using amendments to build healthy soil.

4. Divert roof and driveway runoff into stable, vegetated areas

Many older homes have drains and pipes that carry rain from hard surfaces such as driveways, parking areas, and roofs directly into ditches and storm drains which flow to streams or lakes. The problem is that rainwater picks up what it touches on your property, such as pet waste, fertilizers, and dirt, which are all rich in phosphorus - not to mention potentially toxic chemicals, such as oil and pesticides. 

Instead, you can ditch the pipes and use nature-inspired solutions that allow your landscape to better absorb rainwater, allow it to soak into the ground, and clean it. Learn more about RainScaping solutions like rain gardens, rain barrels, and underground infiltration systems

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5. Avoid bare soils - keep them covered up

Bare soils and dirt patches are pretty common in our yards. While seemingly harmless, exposed soils are easily carried away and into our waters by rainfall. The extra dirt means extra phosphorus and more algae in your lake. 

Keep bare soils in place by covering with either:

  • Mulch - Apply a layer of suitable mulch and reapply in subsequent years. See “Growing Healthy Soils” for mulch recommendations.
  • Plants - For a long-term solution, plant the area with evergreen groundcover or other plants suitable to the site conditions. 

Hillside erosion is another source of soil that pollutes lakes. If you have minor hillside erosion, establishing the right plants can help. Their roots form a network of vegetation that holds the soil in place. Use temporary erosion control measures such as straw wattles or fiber erosion control blankets to keep soils in place while your plants get established. See the Salmon Friendly Gardening or Plant List publications for good plant options to stabilize slopes. 

Retaining walls and terraces are another option for preventing erosion from slopes. Yet, these solutions require careful design and permitting. If you have significant erosion problems that are undermining the integrity of your property, you should consult with a licensed civil or geotechnical engineer.


Learn more and get assistance on solutions for erosion with Snohomish County's RainScaping program.