New Vermont legislation that all but bans phosphorus uses on maintained lawns in Vermont is a model following several other states including New York and Maine. Unfortunately, the message has yet to reach most home owners and businesses within Vermont as it relates to fertilizer usage. A pile of research and scientific agreement went into drafting this new law as it relates to the removal of phosphorus (P) in fertilizer. If we recall from chemistry class, P is the middle number in what most folks see on a bag of fertilizer. For example; 23-5-10 with 5 representing P. As a general statement, unless you have a soil test determining the need for P, or if the your lawn is newly seeded/sodded in the first year, P is now illegal to use in the state of Vermont. The truth is lots of research supports P finding its way into our waterways such as rivers, streams, and lakes. As a result, algae blooms become abundant, using up oxygen in the water and thereby causing adverse health effects to fish and other desirable organisms.
Regrettably, some of the new law is vague and does not address specific issues such as acres of agricultural land along the CT River or large lakes; they are exempt. Another difficulty is in regard to the time frame that you as a home owner can apply fertilizer in Vermont. The new time frame is capped between April 1st and October 15th. Similar laws in surrounding states end the season on December 1st versus mid October. Although December 1st might be a stretch for Vermont fertilizer use and not be applicable (did I mention the ground cannot be frozen?), I can certainly see viable treatments being applied into late October. Don’t forget, this applies to ALL home owners in Vermont as well as commercial entities including golf courses. The current fine is listed at around $500 per occurrence. That could get expensive! You know what the Borg say on Star Trek the next generation . . . “resistance is futile”.
On the positive side, the mandated 25 ft distance between waterways and the lawn is a nice starting point. I would actually recommend a greater distance on steep slopes or very thin turf where runoff or erosion is likely to occur. Remember, green grass is nice when done right, but it’s only grass and effort should be made to prevent potential damage to the home of fish, plants, or other wildlife. This change in law is another reason why state licensed, seasoned, and experienced companies are so important when it comes to legally fertilizing and caring for your turf. While most home owners may mean well, it will take months if not years for this kind of word to spread never mind compliance with switching over to a zero phosphate fertilizer. Don’t forget, lots of people think like this . . . “If 50 lbs is good, 100 should be great”. In this case, not so much.
How can you help? Step one would be to tell your friends to read this blog and spread the word. Folks need to realize this is an important change. A really big one! Second, get a copy of the law as it is drafted by visiting the Department of Agriculture. Or ask your local representative to send you a copy and explain it further. I have the file in electronic form and could e-mail a copy if asked. April 1st will be here before you know it, then its game time . . . on unfrozen ground of course!
On Twitter @MrGrassNHVT