State pushes "green" lawn care for Bay

Agriculture officials urge homeowners get a jump on fertilizer curbs due in 2013

April 16, 2012|Tim Wheeler

Maryland's law limiting lawn fertilizer practices doesn't kick in for more than a year yet, but state officials are urging homeowners to get a jump on the new curbs by limiting how much grass food they put down now.

At a press conference in Annapolis to kick off Earth Week, state Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance said there's no reason not to start using greener lawn and gardening practices at home this year.  He said restoring the Chesapeake Bay needs homeowners to join farmers in taking care where, when and how they apply fertilizer.

Nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, are key ingredients in lawn fertilizer, which accounts for about 44 percent of all fertilizer sold in Maryland. While farms have been subject to at least some regulation for a decade now, lawmakers adopted curbs last year on residential and business fertilizer practices to help meet the state's goals for reducing the nutrient pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay.

The Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 doesn't become effective until Oct. 1, 2013, in large part to give lawn care companies time to meet the law's training and certification requirements.  State agriculture officials said manufacturers of lawn fertilizer already have adjusted their products to reduce their nutrient content.

Under the law, lawn fertilizer formulas and application instructions will be changed to eliminate phosphorus altogether and to see that no more than 0.9 pounds of total nitrogen is applied for every 1,000 square feet of yard, with at least 20 percent of the nitrogen in slow-release form.  Exceptions on the phosphorus ban will be made for specially labeled starter fertilizer and "organic" products.

The law also will prohibit fertilizer applications from Nov. 15 until March 1, within 15 feet of a water way or when heavy rain is forecast.  Using fertilizer to de-ice sidewalks and driveways also is a no-no.

Experts ecommend homeowners have their lawn and garden soil tested every three or four years to tailor fertilizer use to what's really needed.  Those who don't have a lawn service can collect dirt from their yards themselves and send it to a laboratory for analysis.  For a list of labs and what they charge, go here.

But DIYers may run into confusion, because many labs are not yet attuned to Maryland's guidelines on the nutrient needs of lawns, so may recommend more fertilizer than the new law prescribes, said Jo Mercer, chief of the agriculture department's nutrient management program.  One laboratory that will adjust its soil-test recommendations for the Maryland law is that run by Pennsylvania State University, she said.

To help maintain a healthy lawn, homeowners should mow their grass no shorter than three inches tall, said Jon Traunfeld, director of the University of Maryland's Home and Garden Information Center. He demonstrated other green cultivation tips, including composting yard waste, planting "salad box" gardens and building rain barrels.  For those and more, go here.

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