Lawn and Yard Care Choices

Homeowners’ yard care practices affect nutrient fluxes, soil systems, and water quality in urban areas. However, few studies have examined homeowners’ yard care decisions and their interactions with urban ecosystems. This study examines homeowners’ yard care choices and their influence on C, N, and P fluxes in the Twin Cities. Findings from this research can inform the design of yard care resources for homeowners and urban policies to improve water and soil quality while supporting households’ preferred yard qualities and functions.

The research questions, methods, and preliminary analysis and results are outlined below. For more information about this study, contact Kristen Nelson (

Research Questions

We are exploring the roles of knowledge, norms, perceived control, and preferences in homeowners’ yard care choices and the relationship of yard care choices with biophysical processes in urban ecosystems. Research questions that address these topics include:

  • How does knowledge about yard care practices and biophysical processes influence homeowners’ yard care decisions?
  • How do neighborhood norms influence homeowners’ yard care ideals and practices?
  • What types of lawns and yards do homeowners prefer, and how do their preferences influence yard care choices?
  • How do lawn care choices reflect and construct a person’s identity?
  • How do homeowners internalize and modify information and perceived social norms about yard care practices in their yard care decisions?
  • How and why do homeowners’ yard care decisions change over time?
  • How do yard care decisions influence C, N, and P fluxes?


We examine homeowners’ yard care choices through a hybrid approach that includes:

  • a mailed survey (.pdf)
  • small group discussions and mailed information exchanges with homeowners
  • parcel data (interpreted using GIS)
  • application of Household Flux Calculator to estimate C, N, and P fluxes

The resulting dataset includes information on biophysical, socioeconomic, and social/psychological variables that potentially influence homeowners’ decision making about yard care as well as household-level fluxes of elements. Using this method to study element fluxes at the household level allows us to link yard care choices and element fluxes.

Mail Survey

Yard Care Choices survey graphic.The Yard Care Choices survey (.pdf) was conducted with households in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota and Lino Lakes, Minnesota that

  • are owner-occupied;
  • are single-family, detached homes; and
  • did not receive an invitation to participate in the 2008 TCHEP survey.

We randomly selected 2,000 households in Highland Park (population 24,078 in 2010) and 2,000 households in Lino Lakes (population 20,500 in 2010) that met our selection criteria. We mailed a Yard Care Choices survey (.pdf) with an introductory letter to selected households in April 2011. About two weeks later, we sent a reminder postcard. We received a total of 942 completed surveys, a response rate of 24%.

Our survey consisted of 55 questions and took approximately 20 minutes to complete. The survey requested quantitative and qualitative information about:

  • biophysical attributes of yards;
  • preferences for lawns and yards (current and ideal qualities and functions);
  • fertilizing, mowing, and watering practices;
  • conservation practices;
  • information sources for lawn and yard care;
  • future lawn and yard care plans;
  • attitudes, perceived social norms, and perceived control regarding lawn fertilization;
  • values and concerns about nearby water bodies;
  • number and weights of pets and pet waste disposal practices; and
  • demographics (age, gender, race and ethnicity, education, income, number of household members).

As part of the survey, we invited homeowners to exchange information and ideas about yard care choices over the summer of 2011. 667 survey respondents (71%) indicated that they would like to participate or would be interested in receiving more information about the study.

Small Group Discussions and Mailed Information Exchanges

We invited survey respondents who indicated interest in exchanging information and ideas about lawn and yard care to participate in either two small group discussions or two mailed information exchanges over the summer of 2011. All participants received a free soil test upon completion of the study as an incentive for participation.


In May and June 2011, we invited 496 survey respondents to participate in two small group discussions, the first in late June and the second in late July/early August. 73 respondents (15%) accepted the invitation (46 in Highland Park and 27 in Lino Lakes). We organized respondents into 4 discussion groups in Highland Park and 3 discussion groups in Lino Lakes of approximately 6-10 people. Group assignments were based primarily on participants’ schedules and secondarily on securing a diversity of interests in types of lawn and yard care in each group.

In June 2011, we invited 209 survey respondents to participate in mailed information exchanges. 91 respondents (44%) accepted our mailed two stage information exchange invitation.


We designed “Yard Care Choices” guides and feedback forms for the small group discussions and mailed information exchanges. Previous TCHEP findings about social-psychological factors that influence homeowners’ decisions to fertilize their lawns as well as lawn and yard care practices recommended by the Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series (University of Minnesota Extension) informed the creation of these study materials. (Study Materials: Yard Care Choices Guide 1 [.pdf] and Yard Care Choices Guide 2 [.pdf]).

The “Yard Care Choices” guides and feedback forms involved three primary decisions for participants: 1) their desired lawn qualities and functions, 2) yard care practices to move towards their goals, and 3) yard care practices to improve watershed and soil health based on their yard’s characteristics. The materials structured homeowners’ decision making about these topics by integrating biophysical information (lawn biology, watersheds, and soil ecosystems) and recommended conservation practices with written individual reflection about yard preferences, practices, and plans. In addition, small group discussions included sharing of decisions and norms.

For copies of the feedback forms contact Kristen Nelson (

Analysis and Results

Analysis of the Yard Care Study data are ongoing, but some preliminary survey results are now available.

Yard Care Study highlights what homeowners are doing and why: giving back to those who helped with the research

Recently,“Yard Care Choices in Urban Living” survey respondents received a preliminary summary of survey results. It explains some general observations and conclusions that were made from analysis of the survey responses. As an important part of the research process, respondents may find it interesting to see the yard care choices and motivations of others in their communities, and identify new ideas and perspectives.

Example findings:

  • 83% of people think that neighbors have expectations for their yard.
  • 44% of people that fertilize, sweep fertilizer from the pavement.

Yard Care Choices guide ready for use

The Yard Care Choices Guide is a decision-making tool that homeowners can use to get the yard and lawn they want while promoting the water quality of Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and streams. It integrates biophysical information (lawn biology, watersheds, and soil ecosystems) and recommended conservation practices with  yard preferences, practices, and plans. Use the guide to link your desired yard qualities and functions, yard care activities, and yard’s ecosystem.  In addition to private homeowners, watershed districts and other nonprofit organizations can print and distribute the guide for educational purposes.

I. Imagine Your Ideal Yard
II. Understand Lawn Biology
III. Understand Soil and Watershed Systems
IV. Plan For Your Yard