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Lawn Fertilizer (NYS Nutrient Runoff Law)

Look for the Zero!

Before buying lawn fertilizer, check the bag for a set of three numbers showing the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Buy a bag with a "0" in the middle.

Look for the Zero

Zero in the middle means phosphorus free and that means….

Zero pollution - Phosphorus is one of the leading causes of water pollution. Even if you live far from a water body, excess phosphorus from your lawn can wash off and pollute lakes and streams, harming fish and ruining boating and swimming. More than 100 water bodies in New York State cannot be used for drinking, fishing or swimming because they contain too much phosphorus.

Zero waste - Why pay for a chemical your lawn doesn't need? Generally, only newly established lawns or those with poor soil need phosphorus. Phosphorus applied to a lawn that doesn't need it won't be used and can cause water pollution.

Zero hassle - It's against the law to use phosphorus on lawns that don't need it. (New York State Environmental Conservation Law, article 17, title 21 and Agriculture and Markets Law § 146-g) Check local laws, too-some municipalities have stricter laws about selling and using lawn fertilizers.

Green Lawn
Harmful Algal Bloom

An over-fertilized lawn can lead to a green lake! Excess phosphorus in waterbodies can cause algae overgrowth, including harmful algal blooms, with serious impacts to the environment and public health.

When fertilizing your lawn…

Follow the requirements of the law. Do not:

  • Use lawn fertilizer that contains phosphorus unless you are establishing a new lawn, or a soil test shows that your lawn does not have enough phosphorus.
  • Apply any lawn fertilizer December 1 - April 1.
  • Apply fertilizer on sidewalks, driveways or other impervious surfaces. If fertilizer spills onto these surfaces, you MUST sweep it up to prevent it from washing into drains or waterways. Do not hose if off.
  • Apply lawn fertilizer within 20 feet of any water body unless…
    • There is at least a 10-foot buffer of shrubs, trees or other plants between the area you are fertilizing and the water,
    • Fertilizer can be applied no closer than 3 feet from the water using a device with a spreader guard, deflector shield or drop spreader.
What should I see at the store?
Retailers who sell fertilizer must display phosphorus-containing fertilizer separately from phosphorus-free fertilizers and post a sign near the display. A sample sign is available in the "Important Links" section on the right-hand side of this page.

The law applies to:

  • Homeowners applying fertilizer themselves
  • Landscapers and lawn care professionals
  • Pesticide applicators
  • Retailers, distributors and manufacturers of lawn fertilizers
  • Fertilizer/pesticide combination products (sometimes called "weed and feeds") when these products contain over 0.67% phosphorus.
  • Organic phosphorus fertilizer (such as bone meal).

The law does not apply to:

  • Use of products with 0.67 in the middle or lower
  • Agricultural fertilizer or fertilizer for trees, shrubs or gardens
  • Compost


  • For an owner, owner's agent, or occupant of a household, the penalties are: issuance of a written warning with educational materials for a first violation; a fine of up to $100 for a second violation; and fines up to $250 for subsequent violations.
  • The penalties for all others are: a fine up to $500 for a first of violation; and fines up to $1000 for subsequent offenses.

Get a Soil Test

If you think your lawn might need extra phosphorus, test your soil. Tests cost $10-$20. There are several options:

  • Have testing done through your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.
  • Find a commercial laboratory that tests soil.
  • Use a home test kit. These tests tend to be less accurate and do not come with fertilizer recommendations.

Fertilizer and Nitrogen on Long Island

Nitrogen runoff impacts both surface and groundwater quality on Long Island. Suffolk and Nassau counties have their own fertilizer laws to restrict nitrogen from fertilizer from reaching waterbodies. Visit the counties' websites for details about their respective regulations .

Dishwasher Detergent

The Nutrient Runoff Law also includes provisions regarding the sale of dishwasher detergent:

  • The sale of newly stocked, phosphorus-containing dishwasher detergents for household use and commercial use is prohibited in NYS.
  • There is no change to the phosphorus limits for detergents used to clean dairy equipment or food processing equipment.

As retailers are no longer allowed to sell phosphorus-containing dish detergent in NYS, consumers do not need to take any steps to comply with this portion of the law.

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