Agriculture Department Reminds Marylanders to Follow Lawn Fertilizer Law

Helpful tips for homeowners to protect local waterways and Chesapeake Bay

As spring weather approaches, the Maryland Department of Agriculture reminds homeowners and lawn care professionals to follow Maryland's lawn fertilizer law when treating their lawn. The law is designed to protect local streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay; and requires that all turfgrass professionals be licensed and certified by the department.

"Caring for a lawn is no different than caring for a crop in the field," said Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. "Farmers practice sound nutrient management by applying fertilizer and other nutrient sources only when the crop is actively growing and by using best management practices to protect nearby waterways from potential runoff. Homeowners and lawn care professionals can do the same when caring for lawns."

Nutrients—including nitrogen and phosphorus—are key ingredients in lawn fertilizer. When it rains, fertilizer that has been applied to lawns can wash into nearby storm drains and streams that empty into the Chesapeake Bay. Once in our waterways, fertilizer contributes to the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching Bay grasses, rob the water of oxygen, and threaten underwater life. Maryland's lawn fertilizer law helps protect the Chesapeake Bay from excess nutrients entering its waters from urban sources, including golf courses, parks, recreation areas, businesses and hundreds of thousands of lawns.

The licensure and certification process ensures that lawn care professionals understand the science behind turf management and the environmental practices they need to follow to protect waterways from fertilizer runoff. The department encourages homeowners to verify that their lawn care provider is certified by checking the department's website for a list of Certified Lawn Care Professionals.

Do-it-yourselfers can make a difference for local creeks, streams and the Chesapeake Bay this spring by following these best management practices:

-- Skip the spring fertilizer. Fertilizing lawns in the spring promotes excessive top growth at the expense of root health.

-- Sharpen lawnmower blades. A dull blade rips the grass, opening it up to disease. Removing the blade takes minutes and many local hardware stores or garden shops can sharpen your blade for you.

-- Raise the cutting height of the mower. Taller grass shades out weeds and needs less water. A three inch cut length is ideal for most lawns.

-- Leave grass clippings on the lawn to decompose naturally. "Grasscycling" provides free fertilizer all season long.

If you fertilize:

-- Follow the directions on the fertilizer bag.

-- Learn about soil testing. Click here for seasonal and yearly fertilizer recommendations.

-- Do not apply phosphorus to lawns unless a soil test indicates that it is needed. Phosphorus is indicated by the middle number on a fertilizer bag.

-- Clean up fertilizer that lands on sidewalks or other impervious surfaces.

-- Keep fertilizer applications 10 to 15 feet from waterways.

-- Do not apply fertilizer if heavy rain is predicted.

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