The lawn fertilizer you use could be washing excess nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay and contributing to dead zones. New laws are aimed at reducing that runoff.
On May 19, 2011, Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Fertilizer Use Act of 2011, an environmental law designed to reduce the amount of nutrients washing into the Chesapeake Bay from lawns, golf courses, parks, recreation areas and other non-agricultural sources.
The law limits the amount of phosphorus contained in lawn fertilizer products sold to the public, establishes a training, certification and licensing program for people who are hired to apply fertilizer to non-agricultural landscapes, limits fertilizer amounts applied to turf, and requires the implementation of a homeowner education program about best management practices to be followed when using fertilizers.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, about 14 percent of the nitrogen and 8 percent of the phosphorus entering the Bay can be traced to non-agricultural urban and suburban sources—mainly lawns. While certain restrictions on fertilizer use and application have been in place for farmers since 2001, only limited restrictions apply to commercial lawn care applicators and no restrictions currently apply to homeowners.
The Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 will be implemented in phases over the next two years by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the University of Maryland (UMD).
Key Changes For Homeowners:
Homeowners and do-it-yourselfers will be required to follow University of Maryland guidelines when fertilizing lawns, gardens and landscape areas. These guidelines will be promoted through a public education program that will include information on best management practices to follow when using fertilizers, soil testing information, and how to read and follow a fertilizer label. The following provisions of the law apply to homeowners and do-it-yourselfers:
- Prohibits using lawn fertilizer on impervious surfaces;
- Prohibits using fertilizer:
- --Between November 15 and March 1
- --When the ground is frozen
- --Within 10 to 15 feet of waterways, depending on the method of application;
- Restricts the amount of phosphorus applied to turf, with allowances when soil tests indicate low or medium phosphorus levels or when the homeowner is establishing a new lawn or repairing or reestablishing a lawn;
- Establishes maximum application rates for total nitrogen and water soluble nitrogen; and
- Establishes maximum application rates for enhanced efficiency controlled-release products.
The law requires MDA—with technical guidance from the University of Maryland—to establish a training, certification and licensing program for professionals hired to apply fertilizer to lawns as well as individuals who manage turf at golf courses, public parks, airports, athletic fields, businesses, cemeteries and other non-agricultural properties. In addition, MDA is required to publish a list of certified professional fertilizer applicators for the public.