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FAQ for Lawn Fertilizer


Has the Department identified a minimum required phosphorus level in soil for healthy lawn growth? If so, can phosphorus fertilizer be applied to lawns that test below this threshold?

No, a minimum threshold has not been established at this time. The Department recommends that soil samples be taken to a nutrient testing lab for analysis. However, Cornell University Soil Laboratory has conducted research to determine the phosphorus soil levels that would result in improved turf grass performance. Using the Morgan soil test procedure, the analysis found no benefit to phosphorus levels above 4 parts per million.

What is the applicability of this law to hydro-seeding?

The law applies to the application of fertilizer rather than the method of application, so hydroseeding is not restricted per se. However, hydroseeding lawns or non-agricultural turf using phosphorus hydroseeding fertilizer is prohibited. The exceptions to this prohibition are:

  • If an area is hydroseeded to establish a new lawn, then the application of phosphorus fertilizer is not restricted.
  • If a soil test conducted in the area to be hydroseeded indicates a phosphorus deficiency, the application of phosphorus fertilizer is not restricted.

Would ornamental grasses be treated as turf?

If ornamental grasses are closely mowed, they would be subject to the law. Unmowed grasses would not be considered lawn turf.

Is phosphorus fertilizer application allowed for bare spots without soil testing?

The law allows phosphorus fertilizer to be applied to bare spots to establish turf without soil testing. However, given the myriad of other reasons that bare spots can form, soil testing is recommended to determine the soil nutrient needs for the bare spots. Such applications would be in accordance with the law if the area had not already been treated with phosphorus fertilizer and provided the phosphorus fertilizer is not applied to areas where turf has already been established.
The law also allows the homeowner to use compost to repair bare spots without first testing the soils.

Is the commercial application of phosphorus-containing fertilizer permitted if the products are purchased outside of NY State or on the internet?

No. Only lawn fertilizer with less than 0.67% by weight phosphate content may be applied, regardless of where it was purchased.

As a certified applicator, what if a fertilizer or pesticide/fertilizer combination product is already listed in the lawn care contracts I have with customers - do I have to revise and reissue all such contracts?

Even if such a product is listed in a contract, its application is prohibited under the fertilizer law: "No person shall apply or authorize any person by way of service contract or other arrangement to apply in this state any phosphorus fertilizer on lawn or non-agricultural turf (ECL 17-2103)."

Also, under DEC Regulations Relating to the Application of Pesticides (6 NYCRR Part 325.40(a)(7)), a lawn care contract must be amended if certain elements of the contract change, including the list of pesticides to be applied. If a fertilizer/pesticide combination product is listed and would no longer be used or would be replaced with a pesticide product with a different name or active ingredients, then the contract must be amended to reflect that change in service.

What if a product with more than 0.67% phosphate content is allowed by the National Organic Program - can I use it then?

A product with more than 0.67% phosphate content may only be used when establishing a new lawn or when a soil test indicates a need for additional phosphorus.

Is the use of phosphite-containing fungicides restricted by the Nutrient Law?

The law in question specifically targets phosphorus in lawn fertilizer. Phosphites (PO3) in fungicides are not restricted under the Nutrient Law, but some may be restricted. Use pesticides that can only be used by certified pesticide applicators (check the product label and the NYS Product, Ingredient, and Manufacturer system at the University of Cornell University Cooperative Extension. See "Links Leaving DEC's Website", at right.)

Are compost and compost tea OK to use?

Compost and compost tea are not restricted under the new fertilizer restrictions. Products that meet the exemption for compost in the Nutrient Runoff Law are those that are composed of "biologically stable humus-like material derived from composting or the aerobic, thermophilic decomposition of organic matter." Products that contain chemically/mechanically or otherwise manipulated animal or plant manure are not eligible for the exemption. Products that contain only compost as defined in the law, resulting from the aerobic, thermopilic decomposition process are eligible for the exemption. (Note that compost tea cannot be used as a pesticide in New York State; it is not a registered product.)

Do oven-dried, pelletized manure products meet the definition of compost, and the compost exemption from the law?

No, manure products that are oven-dried or pelletized are not considered to be compost, and are not exempt from this law.
Any manure product that is pelletized does not meet the definition of compost, as it is "chemically/mechanically or otherwise manipulated ". Oven-dried manure has been "otherwise manipulated" as well and does not meet the definition of compost.

What should I do with products I already have that contain more than 0.67% phosphorus? Can I dump the product in the trash and recycle the container, or are there special disposal requirements?

There are no specific disposal requirements in the new law for phosphorus lawn fertilizer. The product may be used if it was purchased before January 1, 2012; however, should it need to be disposed of, any disposal statements on the product label must be followed. In addition, businesses or other entities with larger quantities of waste fertilizer should check with the disposal facility and/or DEC regional staff to determine if the facility has applicable disposal restrictions, either in permit or imposed by the facility.

As a homeowner, is it OK if I contract with a professional applicator to use a fertilizer or pesticide/fertilizer combination product that contains phosphorus?

It is only OK if a soil test indicates that additional phosphorus is needed for growth of that lawn or non-agricultural turf, or the phosphorus fertilizer is used for newly established lawn or non-agricultural turf during the first growing season.

Can I legally spray a product containing Magnesium, Iron, Manganese and Zinc between December 1st and April 1st, or would this be considered a fertilizer and thus be restricted?

The prohibition on application of fertilizer between December 1st and April 1st applies to products that contain nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or potassium (K). If a product does not contain any of these nutrients, it could be applied during the winter months without violating this law.

Is "deep root feeding" (the injection of liquid fertilizer mix into the ground about 1-3 feet deep around trees directly to the root zone) subject to the Dec 1st to April 1st ban and subject to the .67 Phosphorous limitation? Or, can this be done at any time of year with fertilizer higher in phosphorus than the .67 % by weight limit?

Only fertilizer for application on lawn or non-agricultural turf is regulated. Fertilizer for trees is not regulated.
Any fertilizer applied to "flower or vegetable gardens, pasture, hayland, trees, shrubs, turf grown on turf farms, or any form of agricultural production", whether surface of sub-surface, is not restricted and the fertilizer may be applied at any time of the year.

What are the requirements for the retail sign?

Retailers who sell fertilizer in which the available phosphate greater than 0.67 percent, must:

  1. display phosphorus-containing fertilizer separately from non-phosphorus fertilizer; and
  2. post a clearly visible sign in the location where phosphorus-containing fertilizer is displayed, which is at least eight and one-half inches by eleven inches in size, and states that: "Phosphorus runoff poses a threat to water quality.

Therefore, under New York law, phosphorus-containing fertilizer may only be applied to lawn or non-agricultural turf when:

  1. A soil test indicates that additional phosphorus is needed for growth of that lawn or non-agricultural turf; or
  2. The fertilizer is used for newly established lawn or non-agricultural turf during the first growing season."

NYS DEC has prepared signs in black and white and in color that retailers can laminate for in-store display and use to meet the requirements of the law.

Do pesticide commercial permittees have to comply with the new retailer signage requirements regarding fertilizer restrictions?

Yes, any pesticide commercial permittee selling phosphorus fertilizers, including any pesticide/fertilizer combination with a phosphorus content exceeding .67, would be considered a retailer under the law and must comply with the signage requirements in Section 146-g in the State Agriculture and Markets Law.

Are these requirements part of the pesticide regulations?

No. These requirements are part of Article 17, Title 21 of New York State Environmental Conservation Law, "Nutrient Runoff", administered by the DEC Division of Water.

Where can I get help on how to know which products are OK?

For further information, please call New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Water Resource Management at 518-402-8086.