Law of the Lawn: Updated Lawn Fertilizer Guidelines

MAY 12

Beginning in October 2013, Maryland updated its lawn fertilizer application guidelines. This new law helps protect the Chesapeake Bay from excess nutrients entering its waterways from a variety of sources, including many thousands of lawns. The main components of lawn fertilizer are nitrogen and phosphorous. When it rains, excess amounts of these nutrients are carried away by runoff water, empty into our Bay and there can endanger underwater life. For years, most of the fertilizer restrictions have been shouldered by farmers, but now we can all do our part to reduce excess waste and protect our natural water resources.

So what changes can we expect? With the goal of helping homeowners and lawn care professionals maintain healthy lawns without applying unnecessary amounts of nutrients, lawn fertilizer products have been reformulated: The nitrogen content of fertilizer has been reduced while the phosphorous content has been eliminated all together. Because Maryland soil is already rich in phosphorous, adding more is unnecessary. There are a few exceptions to this rule when soil tests indicate more phosphorous is needed or when the lawn is being established, patched or renovated. The new regulations apply both to lawn care professionals, who must be state certified, as well as homeowners. To avoid the risk of penalties, be sure to read and follow The University of Maryland's recommendations when fertilizing lawns. Important reminders include:

  • Fertilizer may not be used to de-ice walkways and driveways.
  • It is against the law to apply fertilizer to sidewalks, driveways or other impervious surfaces. Any product that lands on these surfaces must be swept back onto the grass or cleaned up.
  • Do not apply fertilizer within 15 feet of waterways. This setback is reduced to 10 feet if a drop spreader, rotary spreader with deflector or targeted spray liquid is used to apply fertilizer.
  • Do not fertilize lawns if heavy rain is predicted.

Following these guidelines will help keep our waterways in better shape and our lawns will be looking their best without having unnecessary additives. This way you can be green and so can your grass!