Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Nutrients

Take Action: Yard/Garden and Pet Waste

Photo of a pet waste sign

Picking up pet waste and properly disposing of it in the trash can is something all pet owners can do to help protect water resources.

photo of native landscaping

Native landscaping retains rainfall on-site and reduces the need for watering and fertilizer because the plants are adapted to grow in the local environment.
Source: USDA NRCS.

photo of leaves and grass clippings

Mulch or fertilize with leaves, grass clippings, or compost instead of commercial products. This keeps yard waste, fertilizers and weed killers out local water bodies.

Lawn and Garden Care

Beautiful, weed-free lawns and gardens are aesthetically pleasing, but come at a cost. Over-fertilizing is a common practice for many homeowners and landscaping services in commercial areas. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers readily wash from where they are applied down streets and driveways into local streams. Residential areas can be a large source of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers. One study estimated that 50 percent of the nitrogen in fertilizer leaches from lawns when improper fertilizer application techniques are used (e.g., applying fertilizer just before a rainstorm).1

When lawns and gardens are over watered, fertilizer can be more easily washed away. It is estimated that over watering can increase nitrogen loss by 5 to 11 times compared to using proper water management strategies (e.g., using soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems).1

In addition to preventing over watering, homeowners and businesses can employ a number of easy landscaping practices to control and reduce runoff.  For example, rain gardens use native plant species that reduce the need for fertilizer and provide a way for water to soak into the ground, rather than flowing from the land and carrying away fertilizers. A project in Burnsville, Minnesota monitored the results of building rain gardens in a residential neighborhood and found an 80 percent reduction in runoff.2

What you can do:1, 3

  • Apply fertilizers only when necessary and be sure to select the best fertilizer for your needs (use soil tests to determine necessity) and at the recommended amount; this saves money and reduces nitrogen/phosphorus pollution.
  • Apply fertilizer after weather events (e.g., rain or wind).
  • Apply fertilizer as close as possible to the period of maximum uptake and growth, which is usually spring and fall in cool climate, and early and late summer in warm climates.
  • Avoid applying fertilizer close to waterways.
  • Do not over water lawns and garden; using a soaker hose can reduce over watering that carries away fertilizers that would otherwise enrich lawns and gardens.
  • Use yard waste, which includes clippings and leaves, in mulch or compost for your lawn; if this is not an option, securely bag all clippings and leaves for disposal (this keeps them from washing into streams and increasing nitrogen and phosphorus loads).
  • Choose low maintenance native grasses for your lawn that require less fertilizer and water.
  • Use native plants and plants with deep root systems.
  • Employ conservation practices, such as permeable pavement, rain gardens, grassy swales, or using native plants as vegetated filter or buffer strips along the boundary of lawns.
  • Core compacted soils before application to increase fertilizer uptake.
  • Properly calibrate spreaders before applying fertilizers as settings can change over time due to wear and tear.
  • Fill spreaders on a hard surface so that spills can be easily cleaned up.
  • Properly store unused fertilizers and properly dispose of empty containers.


  1. USEPA. 1993. "Management Measures for Urban Areas." in Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed December 2010.
  2. Leuthold, K. 2005. "Burnsville Rain Gardens Case Study: Retrofitting for Water Quality." (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer (3 pp, 1.3MB, About PDF) in 2005 Minnesota Stormwater Manual, vol. 2, 3-5.  Accessed December 2010.
  3. USEPA. 2001. "Sources Water Protection Practices Bulletin: Managing Turfgrass and Garden Fertilizer Application to Prevent Contamination of Drinking Water." (PDF) (6 pp, 234K, About PDF) EPA 816-F-01-029. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed December 2010.

Top of Page

Pet Waste

Pet Waste Disposal

Winston-Salem, NC has installed pet waste stations Exit EPA Disclaimer in five downtown locations. These locations, marked with red and white “Scoop the poop” signs have dispensers for plastic bags and a bin for depositing pet wastes.

Not picking up after your pet is a health concern for humans and other animals and can lead to water quality problems. Pet waste contributes nitrogen, phosphorus, parasites, and bacteria to water bodies when it is not disposed of properly. This can lead to water body conditions that are unsafe for human recreation.  Many municipalities have adopted ordinances that require pet owners to collect and properly dispose of pet waste.

What you can do:1

  • When taking your pet for a walk, bring a bag with you to collect and dispose of pet waste in a trash can (waste left on sidewalks, streets and other paved areas is carried away by stormwater directly into streams).
  • Avoid walking your pet near streams and other waterways; instead walk them in grassy areas, parks, or undeveloped areas.
  • Inform other pet owners of why picking up pet waste is important and encourage them to do so as well.
  • Take part in a storm drain stenciling program to help make others aware of where pet waste and other runoff goes when not disposed of properly.


  1. USEPA. 2001. "Sources Water Protection Practices Bulletin: Managing Pet Waste and Wildlife Waste to Prevent Contamination of Drinking Water." (PDF) (3 pp, 101K, About PDF) EPA 916-F-01-027. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed October 2010.

Learn more about what you can do to keep local waterways clean:

Top of Page

Jump to main content.