Keep our waterways clean: look for zero on lawn fertilizer

don't use lawn fertilizer with phosphorus
Photo illustration copyright Connie Oswald Stofko

Do you like swimming or fishing or clean water in general? Then help our lakes, rivers and creeks by not spreading phosphorus on your lawn.

If you fertilize your lawn, look for a bag with a zero in the middle.

Fertilizer labels have three numbers. The number in the middle is the percentage of phosphorus in the product, such as 22-0-15.

Excess phosphorus has made many waterways in New York State un-swimmable and un-fishable, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Generally, only newly established lawns or those with poor soil need phosphorus.

That’s why New York’s nutrient runoff law prohibits the use of phosphorus lawn fertilizers unless a new lawn is being established or a soil test shows that the lawn does not have enough phosphorus. (New York’s nutrient runoff law does not affect fertilizer for gardens.) Find out more about the law here.

What can you do to maintain a great lawn without harming our water?

  • Spread a quarter inch of compost on the lawn to improve moisture retention and soil texture and add beneficial microorganisms and nutrients.
  • Allow grass to grow to three inches and then cut no more than one inch off the top. This is the “one-third” rule and helps to develop a deeper root system, which is a natural defense against weeds, disease and drought.
  • Leave lawn clippings after mowing to improve the health of the lawn. Grass clippings are 80 percent water and contain two percent to four percent nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients. Visit DEC’s Lawn Care webpage for more information.
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