Around Your Backyard

Polluted runoff is the main source of water pollution in the United States. Things you put on the ground, such as fertilizers, pesticides, pet waste, and chemicals, mix with rainwater (or the water from your sprinkler!) and are carried into the Sound. Even if you do not live by the Sound, you affect it. Did you know those storm drains in your neighborhood lead to Long Island Sound? Read below for ways that you can do your part to protect and restore Long Island Sound.

Fertilize Wisely

Remember, when it comes to fertilizer, more is not better. Plants can only absorb a certain amount of nutrients. Excess fertilizer that is not absorbed by your lawn or garden will be carried away with the rain and end up in Long Island Sound!

  • When you do apply, use fertilizer sparingly. Organic, slow-release fertilizers are better for your lawn and the environment.
  • Don’t fertilize your lawn before a rainstorm. Also, fertilize during the growing season, not during the winter or a drought. Calibrate your applicator before applying fertilizers. As equipment ages, annual adjustments may be needed.
  • If you elect to use a professional lawn care service, select a company that employs trained technicians and follows practices designed to minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Test your soil before applying fertilizers. Soil testing determines the acidity level, the amount of available nutrients (such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium), and the content of organic matter of the soil in your lawn or garden areas. To get your soil tested, contact: Connecticut: Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory University of Connecticut at (860) 486-4274 or, New York: Nutrient Analysis Laboratory Cornell University at (607) 255-4540.
  • Leave lawn clippings on your lawn so that nutrients in the clippings are recycled and less yard waste goes to landfills. This is a valuable soil conditioner which gradually releases nutrients to your lawn and garden. Using compost will also decrease the amount of fertilizer you need to apply. In addition, compost retains moisture in the soil and thus helps you conserve water. You can read more on compost and how to prepare it at EPA’s page Composting At Home.

Use Organic Lawn Care Techniques

Pesticides can be washed off your property and carried into Long Island Sound. Eliminate or reduce the amount of pesticides that are used on your property.

  • Handpick and screen out pests. Many vegetable pests are easy to see and remove, as long as you are committed to spending the time. Screen out the pests by using row covers that let in light, air, and water, but keep pests from colonizing the plants.
  • Change the time of planting. Plants in the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, many Asian greens) planted early in May are attacked by cabbage maggots in the roots and flea beetles on the leaves. Consider planting these in early August for fall harvest.
  • Choose resistant varieties. Many vegetable varieties have been bred for resistance to common plant diseases (see Vegetable MD Online for lists).
  • Use low toxicity sprays. There is good information about organic materials in the Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management.

Conserve Water

Your lawn and most plants are happy with one inch of water per week, so invest in a rain gauge and don’t overwater!

  • A two-inch layer of mulch around shrubs, under trees, and in gardens will also prevent water from evaporating- keeping soil most, the ground cool, and weeds to a minimum.
  • Do not overwater your lawn or garden. Overwatering may increase leaching of fertilizers to ground water.
  • When your lawn or garden needs watering, use slow-watering techniques such as trickle irrigation or soaker hoses. Such devices reduce runoff and are 20-percent more effective than sprinklers.


Using Sound-friendly landscaping techniques, planting trees and native plants, and keeping your lawn healthy are great ways to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that comes from your property.

  • Plant trees on your property and in your neighborhood and take care of the ones that already exist. For new home constructions, leave trees in place if possible. Trees’ immense root systems effectively absorb water over a large area and their canopies slow the fall of rainwater.
  • Plant native plants. These plants are adapted to live in local conditions, support the local ecosystem, and stay put, unlike non-native plants.
  • Select plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
  • Use landscaping techniques such as grass swales (low areas in the lawn) or porous walkways to increase infiltration and decrease runoff. Install wood decking, bricks, or interlocking stones, instead of impervious cement walkways, to collect water and allow it to filter into the ground.
  • Restore bare patches in your lawn as soon as possible to avoid erosion and spread mulch on bare ground to help prevent erosion and runoff.

Remember, those storm drains lead to Long Island Sound! Even if you do not live close to Long Island Sound, your actions affect it. The storm drains in your neighborhood flows to Long Island Sound!

  • Keep those suds out of Long Island Sound. Wash your car only when necessary; use a bucket to save water. Alternatively, go to a commercial carwash that uses water efficiently and disposes of runoff properly.
  • Keep storm drains clear of trash and other debris, as these items will be washed into Long Island Sound during the first heavy rain. Do not put yard clippings in the storm drains and make sure to tell your neighbors the same!!

Reducing Polluted Runoff

There are many simple ways that you can reduce the amount of runoff that comes from your property.

  • Keep your lawn tall. Taller grass allows for a deeper root system and works better to slow the movement of water. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to naturally provide nutrients for your lawn, but be sure to clean clippings from the street and walkways so they are not picked up and transported by runoff.
  • Leave a buffer. Riparian (or vegetated) buffers not only improve water quality and increase bank stabilization, but they also provide habitat for wildlife. For more information, visit the Connecticut River Joint Commission’s website.
  • Modify your driveway. Research shows that residential driveways make up about 15% of all impervious surfaces in Connecticut. To reduce runoff, you can modify your driveway by removing the center, replacing the bottom of your driveway with a grate, or constructing your driveway out of paving stones, porous asphalt, or permeable concrete. Visit Connecticut Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials Web site for more information.
  • Install a rain garden. Rain gardens receive runoff water from roofs and other hard surfaces (such as driveways) and allow the runoff to naturally soak into the ground. This process filters out pollutants that are carried with the rainwater that washes off your lawn, rooftop and driveway. Rain gardens come in many sizes and are easy to build and maintain! For more information, listen to EPA’s webcast on rain gardens.
  • Use the water from your roof. Direct your downspouts toward a vegetated area, such as your garden or lawn. If you are worried about the risk of soggy yards or basement flooding, install rain barrels to collect the water so you can save some rain for a sunny day.
  • Reduce the slope of your yard. If your yard has a severe slope, the soil will have a hard time absorbing water even during moderate storms. Install berms to slow runoff on steep slopes and vegetated swales to absorb water.

Creating Habitat for Wildlife

Wildlife—whether squirrels, birds, butterflies, or bugs—need habitat to survive. Whether you have an apartment balcony or a 20 acre farm, you can create an area that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore habitat in commercial and residential areas.

  • Create a habitat in YOUR backyard. By providing food, water, cover and a place for wildlife to raise their young—and by incorporating sustainable gardening practices—you help wildlife. Visit the National Wildlife Federation’s website for more ideas.
  • Let night be dark. Light pollution has been shown to disorient migratory birds, disrupt mating and reproductive behavior in fireflies and frogs, and interfere with communication in species. Keep your backyard habitat dark by turning off unnecessary lights around your house and yard or using timers and sensors to help put light only where and when it is needed.

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