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Guest Blog: Treating the Lawn Too Early is Not Only Wrong, It’s Illegal

This photo, taken by Alan Cohen in late February of this year, depicts a lawn care company breaking a law that is intended to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

 

By Alan Cohen, President
Safe Lawns for DC Kids and Critters

To protect the Chesapeake Bay, states whose water flows into the Bay have recently passed protective measures to prevent the 41 percent “dead zone” figure from going higher. In 2011 the Maryland legislature passed the Nutrient Management Act.

In 2012 the DC Council passed two bills. One, the 2012 Pesticide Education and Control Amendment Act requires commercial pesticide applicators to take classes in IPM — Integrated Pest Management — prohibited pesticide applications within 25 feet of waterways, and restricted pesticide applications where children play and go to school.

The Sustainable DC Act prohibits application of fertilizers on lawns during winter, from November-March (exact dates to be defined when the regulations are finalized, as in the MD law).

Every State Extension Service in our region does recommends AGAINST spring lawn fertilizer applications. These are our tax-paid professors at Land Grant Colleges, our independent experts.  Instead, they recommend feeding lawns in the fall, which contributes to deep root growth. That produces more drought-resistant grass.

So, if your lawn care provider wants to fertilize your lawn before April, inform them that that is against the spirit of laws in states surrounding the Chesapeake and you don’t want to hurt the bay. In addition, winter-dormant soil and grass (you haven’t had to cut it) cannot process nutrients at this time of year, so most of them applied too early are washed away in Spring rains, like the one we had in late February. Spring storms wash away “pre-emergent” herbicides too, into the Potomac and the Bay.

Another reason not to feed grass in the spring is that it feeds the weed seedlings too. And then lawn companies can charge you more for weed-killing chemicals. Liming, cutting back spring feeding and then aeration and over-seeding in the fall goes a long way to a vigorous, and more weed-free lawn (Over-seeding anytime is a great idea to prevent weeds).  You may have noticed that our lawn has not had any dandelions in the past three years, but that is not due to herbicides. We tested the soil, found out it was acidic, and added lime, which discourages dandelions. They like acidic soil. Acid rain makes the soil acidic, and regular liming corrects it. It is a lot cheaper than herbicide, and poses no risks to the children or pets on our block.

We can live with a Bay with less “dead zones,” even if it means a slightly less bright-green lawn in the early spring. It  will mean a less weed-choked Bay if we all work together.

We can all save money, and Save the Bay, at the same time.

 

Note: Maryland residents noticing lawn care trucks making the rounds too early can contact the MDA at 410-841-5710.

DC residents can contact the DDOE pesticide regulation office at 202-535-2294 or online. There is no such thing as “winter application” of fertilizer. It just washes off into the Bay, and is now illegal.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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