Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Maryland Asks Homeowners to Jump the Gun on Fertilizer Controls

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...
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.
Applying fertilizer from  Nov. 15 to March 1?  I'm way too lazy to do that.  No water way close to our lawn.  That using fertilizer to deice?  Uh, well, uh, it works, I know that.  I figure it just fertilized my back yard.

This came as news to me (I think).
"According to our state chemist here at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, about 44 percent of the fertilizer sold in the state of Maryland is applied to lawns - that's a pretty amazing factoid," Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance said during a press conference Monday. "Everybody assumes that agriculture is the biggest user, but lawns use almost as much fertilizer."
That strikes me as a bit of blame shifting, putting the problem off on the homeowners when most of the problem is still with agriculture.  I don't doubt the figures, however, but I don't know whether all applications are equal.  Are residential fertilizer more or less likely to be consumed before they reach a water way or a surface aquifer that will carry it to a stream?  I've never seen that question studied.

The restrictions are likely to make gardening and lawn maintenance more difficult for homeowners:
Traunfeld said that a lesson homeowners can learn from farmers is to use a soil test to find the exact fertilizer needs for their lawns. Maryland does not have its own soil analysis lab, he said, but the UME website has six labs listed where homeowners can mail a soil sample to for about $10 to $15 and get an analysis of the phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, pH level and possibly other factors as well. While these tests also provide homeowners with recommendations on how they should amend their soil for better results, Traunfeld said it is important for homeowners to compare their results with Maryland's specific guidelines, available online at
Just another front in O'Malley's war on the suburbs.

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