This article, written by the American Ground Water Trust was originally published in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2001, Number 1]


Every spring, the desire for a green, weed-free lawn sends millions of the nation’s homeowners out to purchase fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Often these chemicals are misapplied or when results aren't forthcoming get overused or stored away unused. According to the Rachel Carson Council (Chevy Chase, MD) a recent report showed that 90% of homeowners are unsure about how to properly dispose of unused pesticides. Improper applications and storage of garden chemicals can lead to contamination of ground water, nearby lakes and ponds. Using lawn chemicals incorrectly can also be dangerous for you, your family, and your pets.

When handling and applying chemical fertilizers and pesticides carefully follow the directions on the label. Mix and apply chemicals as far away as possible from your well or any other source of water. Do not spray chemicals with a garden hose unless you are sure it has an anti-siphon device (otherwise a power failure or a sudden drop in water pressure may result in chemicals flowing back into your well). After use, rinse chemical application equipment and dispose of rinse water over your lawn. Store unused chemicals under cover and off the ground away from moisture and where they will be inaccessible to children or animals. Do not dump unwanted pesticides or fertilizers onto the ground or into a nearby stream where contamination could affect ground water or aquatic habitats and animals. Give leftover chemicals to someone who will use them properly or bring them to a hazardous waste collection site for safe disposal. If you choose to hire a professional lawn care company choose one that practices safe precautionary methods.

Knowing how to maintain the correct balance of water, nutrients, and beneficial organisms is the key to a healthy lawn. It will also reduce your use of fertilizers and pesticides saving you money. Here are a few tips:

ß Test the soil every one to two years to determine what kind of treatment your lawn needs. This can prevent over application of fertilizers and allow for other necessary additives to be administered (e.g., lime) to support the optimum affect of the fertilizer. Over fertilizing can lead to poor soil conditions and a thicker thatch layer affecting the health of your lawn.

ß Follow directions on pesticide/ herbicide labels. Over use of pesticides can kill or drive away many beneficial organisms such as earthworms and microorganisms that help decompose thatch, releasing nutrients into the soil.

ß Keep your lawn well maintained by cutting it high (2-3 inches), often, and with sharp blades; a healthy lawn can reduce the amount of weed growth.

ß Water deeply and not often to promote deep root growth making the grass less prone to browning and die-off during dry conditions.

ß Plant native grasses and shrubs that are better adapted to the environment in your area. Native vegetation reduces the amount of fertilizers, pesticides, and water use required by your lawn. Planting native shrubs in place of grass will also reduce the amount of lawn you have to mow.

ß Use alternatives to chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. These methods can save you money and are less dangerous to you, your family, and the environment.

With care and diligent practices green lawns can be safely managed insuring the safety of your well water. For more information about proper lawn care talk to an expert at your local nursery or contact the EPA ( For more information on alternatives to lawn chemicals contact the Bio-Integral Resource Center ( or your local county or University Agricultural Extension office.

[© American Ground Water Trust. This article may be reprinted for non-commercial educational purposes provided it is used in its entirety and that reference is made to its source as an article in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2001, Number 1]