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For a cleaner, greener Hampton Roads
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Yard & Landscaping

Lawn & Garden Best Practices + Quiz

Your yard can be one of the greatest defenses against water pollution. Every plant, flower, tree and shrub plays a critical role.


Our leafy friends are superheroes in disguise. Trees and plants stabilize soil and prevent erosion with their intricate root structure. They also slow down and filter runoff as it travels over land. Trees embrace the rain by storing it on their leaves and in their branches and trunks, all the while reducing the impact of rain and absorbing pollutants that would otherwise go into the storm drain, then into our waterways.


Know your grass.

Virginia is in a “transition zone” for turf grass, meaning there is no perfect grass variety due to our cold winters and hot, dry summers. You may consider both warm season or cool season grasses for your lawn.

Tall fescue, a cool season grass, is the most common grass type in Hampton Roads. Cool season grasses struggle in the hot, dry summers and may require more watering. Warm season grasses may be slow to green in the spring and first to die off in the fall but will better tolerate hot, dry summers. Cool and warm season grasses have different maintenance schedules:

Warm season grass: includes zoysia grass, centipede grass, Bermuda grass or St. Augustine, requires full sun (with the exception of St. Augustine); should be seeded in early spring; and can be fertilized in the spring if your soil test says you need more nutrients.

Cool season grass: includes tall fescue, fine fescue or ryegrass; requires shady yards; and should be seeded in the late summer and fertilized in the fall if your soil test says you need more nutrients.

Have your soil tested before you decide to fertilize.

A soil test provides a list of recommendations for soil amendments to help you make the right decisions for your lawn. However, it is important to understand the information it is providing and the limitations of such a tool.

Fertilizers are described by three numbers, such as 12-4-8 or 46-0-0. These three numbers indicate, respectively, the percent by weight of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) in the fertilizer. The test also indicates the acidity (pH) of your soil and whether lime is needed. The results from a basic soil test will provide you with a nitrogen recommendation, but does not actually measure the nitrogen in your soil. You can often use much less than is recommended to get successful results, and you may not need to use any fertilizer at all if you are mulching your grass clippings back onto your lawn. In Hampton Roads, our soil is naturally rich in phosphorus, so with the exception of new plantings, an addition of phosphorus is often not necessary. Visit our soil testing guide for more information.

Leave grass clippings on the lawn.

After mowing, leave grass clippings on your lawn to help break down and return nitrogen to the soil, greatly satisfying your lawn’s nitrogen needs.

Choose more plants, less lawn.

Trees, shrubs and hardy perennials can beautify your home and help reduce the negative effects of stormwater runoff better than a lawn. Use plants that are native to Hampton Roads and adjusted to local growing conditions. Native plants typically are more resistant to insects and disease and also require less water and fertilizer.

Mulch, mulch, mulch.

Mulch helps to control erosion, retain moisture and stabilize soil temperature. A two-inch layer of mulch material, such as fir bark, pine needles, or wood chips, will reduce water loss and maintain uniform soil moisture around roots. Mulch also can reduce or eliminate weeds that compete with landscape plants for moisture, nutrients and sunlight.

Irrigate only as needed.

Unneeded irrigation promotes disease and weed infestation, while wasting valuable water. Install a rain sensor on your automatic sprinkler system. Morning is the best time to water, because watering in the evening can invite fungus to grow on your plants at night.

Mow your grass.

Proper mowing is important for a well-kept lawn. Newly-seeded lawns should be mowed early and often, leaving 1.5 to 2.0 inches of grass height. Once your lawn is established, set the mower blade at the highest setting, leaving 2 to 3.5 inches of grass. Tall grass encourages deep roots and shades out some weeds.

Sweep it up.

Clean up anything that is lying on pavement. Fertilizer spill? Sweep or blow it into the lawn, not into the street.

Seed bare spots.

If you have bare areas, something must be wrong, and it is preventing the establishment of turf. This is a problem because you can continually lose your soil. First, test your soil testing to see if it needs any soil amendments, then look into different ground covers to stabilize the soil.

Clean up your leaves and yard debris.

Know your locality’s collection schedule. Only place leaves and yard debris out at the designated time, and know the collection requirements (ex. bagging, placement, etc.). Keep loose leaves and yard debris out of the street so that they don’t get washed or blown into the storm drain, which can cause flooding.

Do business with certified landscape companies.

There are two programs which Hampton Roads lawn care companies can show a commitment to improving local water quality. First, the company may have a Green & Clean Initiative certification with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Nutrient Management Program. Companies with this certification have pledged to voluntarily implement responsible lawn care practices. Landscapers may also be certified through the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals program. This voluntary credential ensures that landscape professionals have been properly educated in the design, installation and maintenance of sustainable landscaping techniques, such as rain gardens, for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

What keeps our water clean and flowing?

Find Out Here

Only rain down the storm drain!


Find the leak and fix the leak

How to save money and water

Pick up the poo for clean waterways

Take the Scoop-the-Poop Pledge

Remember paper, plastic bottles, metal cans...

Take our fun quiz!
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We live in a beautiful region surrounded by water. It impacts everything from the food we eat to the fun we have as well as our economic livelihood. Our daily actions have a lasting impact and it's up to us to protect and restore our waterways. It takes a community of individuals making small changes to make a difference. Getting involved in the Bay Star programs is one way you can be part of the effort to protect our region's most defining natural resource, water.

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