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Pest Management and Yard Care Tips

Chimney Bluffs
Photo: Laurie VanVleet,
Ithaca City Schools

Making small changes in how we care for our yards and manage outdoor pests can help protect the Great Lakes. This includes activities we perform miles away from the Great Lakes or other water bodies. Below are useful tips and links to resources to help maintain your yard and help safeguard water resources:

Soil and Plant Health

Holding soil in hands
Test soils for nutrient and pH levels
to ensure they are in the ideal range
for plant absorption.
  • Prevent plant diseases and pests - soil and plant health are key
  • Plant climate-adapted and disease-resistant native species
  • To help prevent weeds: use mulch around plantings, remove weeds before they flower and spread seeds, and over-seed bare spots in lawns with grass seed
  • Incorporate organic matter, such as grass clippings or composted leaves, into compacted soils to increase drainage and to sandy soils to increase water retention
  • Leave lawn clippings on the lawn or start a compost pile

Pest Management/Fertilizer Use

Bee on Flower
Did you know that some insects are
beneficial in your landscape?
Bees are important pollinators.

It is important to protect the environment, including water resources, when managing pests. There are a number of management methods to control pests in yards and outdoor areas. Alternatives to conventional pesticides are available, such as using cultural (e.g. clean up areas that attract pests) or mechanical methods (e.g. exclusion fencing). The tips below provide a brief overview of pest management methods, and how to use fertilizers safely.

  • Organic land care methods involving soil care are available. The Department does not regulate organic turf care or the non-pesticide products involved. For public information purposes, visit the Be Green Organic Yards NY page or try the links in the right hand column and web resources listed below.
  • Use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) for a combination of methods to prevent and reduce pests. IPM incorporates biological, cultural, mechanical, organic, and chemical practices
  • Minimum risk pesticides, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states are "demonstrably safe for the intended use", are another option for pest management
  • Use only NYS registered pesticides if chemical pesticides are necessary, and carefully follow pesticide label directions and precautions. The pesticide label contains product-specific information and directions intended to decrease potential impacts to human health and the environment, including water resources. Always look to the label for:
    • the correct quantity to apply; more is not better
    • how to prevent runoff and drift, particularly if it is rainy or windy
    • disposal methods; do not pour pesticides in sink or storm drains
  • As required by NYS law, do not apply any fertilizer:
    • containing nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorous between December 1 and April 1
    • within 20 feet of any surface water unless there is a vegetative buffer of at least 10 feet
  • Do not broadcast fertilizer onto sidewalks and roads where it can run-off into storm drains or nearby waterways

Use Water Wisely

Grass with healthy root system
Cutting grass longer (2.5 inches or higher)
encourages longer, healthier roots.
  • Practice water conservation
  • Limit lawn watering to the hottest days of summer
  • Water in the morning to help prevent conditions that encourage pest infestations
  • Collect water in a rain barrel for use in your yard
  • Direct gutters to flow onto lawns rather than pavement
  • Use plants that require less water
  • Follow local watering restrictions

Web Resources

  • Cornell Turfgrass Program: http://www.hort.cornell.edu/turf/
  • Green Scaping - The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/catalog/greenscaping.pdf
  • Green Lawns and Gardens Tips - Tips on how to maintain a lawn without using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides
  • Green Lawns and Garens Resources - Links to additional information from other state government and non-profit sites on alternative lawn and landscape care
  • Healthy Yards, Healthy Lawns, Healthy Environment: http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/pesticideslawn.htm
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/ipm.htm, http://www.nysipm.cornell.edu/
  • Landscaping with Native Plants | Great Lakes: http://www.epa.gov/greenacres/
  • Lawn and Garden: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/lawncare/, http://www.epa.gov/epahome/home.htm, http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/lawncare.pdf
  • Lawn Care Without Pesticides: http://www.nysipm.cornell.edu/publications/lawn_care/
  • Minimum Risk Pesticides: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/regtools/25b_list.htm
  • Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA): http://www.organiclandcare.net/


Frank Rossi, Ph.D. (2005). Informational Bulletin #248 Lawn Care Without Pesticides [Brochure]. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
Sarah Little, Ph.D. (2011). Introduction to Organic Lawns and Yards [Booklet]. Stevenson, CT: NOFA Organic Land Care Program.
NYSDEC. (2000). DEC's Pest Management Pamphlet #5: Water Quality and Home Pesticide Use [Brochure link in the right column]. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.