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Improve the Soil Health of your Lawn

Improving soil health isn't just for farmers. The four main soil health principles of maximizing living roots, minimizing disturbance, maximizing cover, and maximizing biodiversity apply to yards and lawns as well. Here are three tips to improve your soil health.

  1. Mow less frequently.

Keeping a thick layer of grass on your lawn will reduce soil erosion from wind or water. Letting your lawn grow tall enough to provide shade to soil will assist in creating a microclimate for the soil. This microclimate protects soil organisms from high summer temperatures and reduces evaporation, which allows moisture to stay in the soil where grass roots can access it.

2. Leave grass clippings on your lawn.

Grass clippings left on your lawn will incorporate overtime into the soil and increase soil organic matter, which can improve water infiltration and soil stability, decreasing runoff and soil erosion. Nitrogen from grass clippings acts as a natural replacement to fertilizer. Whatever you decide to do with your grass clippings, please keep them away from stormwater drains, as that water flows into our streams and rivers, where excess plant residue adds to the level of nitrates in our water.

3. Use herbicide sparingly.

Instead of getting out the herbicide next time a weed starts growing in your lawn, think about the benefits that weed may bring. Many plants that are considered weeds today can be used as a food source, including dandelion and purslane. A diverse plant community is often associated with healthy soils. Additionally, monocultures are more susceptible to environmental stress, and thus a diverse yard is more durable to extreme weather conditions and potential plant pathogens.

If you are ready to make larger changes to your lawn to support pollinators or decrease runoff and flood risk, consider planting native species, rainscaping, or restoring your soil quality.

Native Landscaping

Native plants often have deeper root systems than non-native plants, helping rainwater to infiltrate deeper into the soil instead of running off and allowing the plant to access more moisture during droughts. Natives require less watering, as they are well adapted to Iowa's climate. Aside from helping improve soil and water quality, native plants provide habitat and nectar for pollinators. Consider replanting your lawn to a native turf rather than one with primarily introduced grasses.


If you want to do more to protect water quality in your area, there are several simple solutions you can consider. If your downspout currently lands directly on a driveway or sidewalk, consider redirecting it to a grassy area, raingarden, or even a rain barrel, which would allow you to reuse that water later when you need it.

Soil Quality Restoration

Often when new houses are built, much of the topsoil is removed from the site. To build back the organic rich topsoil, consider a soil quality restoration. These fix the compaction of soil that occurs when heavy machinery is used to build the home, and these add compost to your lawn to increase the organic matter in your soils.

For more information on soil health and what you could do to improve your landscaping for wildlife, water, and soil quality, call Linn County Soil Conservation at 319-377-5960 (extension 3). The content within this blog post was also sent to Linn County for their May blog post.

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