Fertilizers may be good for your lawn, but most people don’t realize how bad they can be for the environment. A law that began being phased in on July 3, 2009 will help educate consumers and landscapers in Westchester about the dangers of phosphorous-containing lawn fertilizers and provide guidelines for the care of lawns.

The 2009 lawn fertilizer law, which limits the use of phosphorous-containing lawn fertilizers and imposes other common-sense restrictions on their application, was passed April 27, 2009 in an effort to minimize the damaging run-off that enters storm drainage systems and is carried to rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. The legislation is intended to provide comprehensive public education resources for both homeowners and landscapers as it restricts the sale of certain products.

Westchester is the first county in the state to implement such restrictions, although the Governor’s office is proposing similar legislation statewide that would prohibit phosphorus-containing dish detergents as well.

How the law is phasing into effect
While the most stringent restrictions on the sale and application of phosphorous-containing lawn fertilizer products won’t go into effect until 2011, a phase-in period has put several limitations into place this summer. Fertilizing is prohibited on hard or impervious surfaces such as pavement or near surface water, as well as within 20 feet of any surface water. Retailers will soon be required to post signs informing customers about the upcoming law and the impacts of fertilizing their lawns. Application of lawn fertilizer will also be banned during winter months as it can’t be absorbed into frozen ground and will wash off into waterways with the first rains.

Consumers should have the opportunity to make smarter decisions when it comes to maintaining healthy lawns and gardens. The ban on phosphorous-containing fertilizers is another way of protecting water quality. If not used properly, fertilizer can wash off yards and driveways and go directly into nearby streams and reservoirs. The legislation imposes inexpensive and common sense guidelines for the use of all fertilizers.

Nitrogen and phosphorous are key sources of nutrient pollution
Lawn fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorous is a key source of the nutrient pollution that is damaging our drinking water and the environment. Phosphorus fertilizer washes off lawns and gardens and flows into streams and reservoirs, overstimulating the growth of algae, which damages water quality, impairs drinking water sources, and reducing life-sustaining oxygen to fish and other aquatic life. Ninety percent of the soils in Westchester County already have enough phosphorus to maintain a healthy lawn.

Fertilizers containing phosphorous can continue to be used on new lawns and new lawn areas, on shrubs and trees, for agricultural use, and on lawns with a demonstrated phosphorous deficiency.