DEC launches the annual “Look for the Zero” campaign encouraging homeowners to buy phosphorus-free lawn fertilizer

Tue, April 6, 2021, 5:10 p.m.

Homeowners encouraged to practice sustainable lawn maintenance to protect state waters

Basil Seggos, commissioner for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, announced the launch of the annual Look for the Zero awareness campaign to encourage homeowners to go phosphorus-free when using lawn manure. DEC encourages consumers to check pouch labels for phosphorus when shopping for fertilizers.

Fertilizer labels have three numbers and the number in the middle is the percentage of phosphorus in the product, e.g. E.g .: 22-0-15. More than 100 bodies of water in New York State cannot be used or enjoyed due to phosphorus overuse.

“Despite the recent wintry weather, spring has arrived and the owners are working outside to keep their lawns looking good,” said Seggos. “But there’s more to it than just green grass. We want New Yorkers to look for zero.” Excess phosphorus is a threat to many New York waters, causing algal blooms, and sometimes rendering bodies of water unswimmable and non-fishable. If New Yorkers adopt sustainable lawn care practices, we can help dramatically reduce the use of phosphorus and pesticides in lawns that protect water quality and public health while maintaining healthy backyards. “

DEC launched the “Look for the Zero” campaign in 2017 with a public announcement showing the effects of fertilizer runoff on New York’s waters.

New York City’s nutrient runoff law prohibits the use of phosphorus lawn fertilizers unless a new lawn is laid or a soil test shows the lawn does not contain enough phosphorus. In general, only newly laid lawns or lawns with poor soil need phosphorus. Regardless of location, excess phosphorus from lawns can wash away and pollute lakes and streams, harming fish, pets, or people who use these waters for recreation – and a source of income for cities that have to shut down beaches or boating areas. New York state law requires retailers to put up signs informing customers of government regulations and to keep phosphorus fertilizers separate from phosphorus-free fertilizers.

DEC encourages homeowners to practice more sustainable lawn care and choose native plants and grasses that are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. These plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. Organic lawn care is easy to do on any lawn, and most chemical pesticides and fertilizers have safe and effective alternatives. Organic lawn care treatments promote deep root systems, natural photosynthesis, and prolonged grass growth. Visit DEC’s Sustainable Landscaping website to learn more.

Additional recommendations for sustainable lawn care include spreading a quarter inch of compost on the lawn to improve moisture retention, soil texture, and add beneficial microorganisms and nutrients. Another suggestion is to let the grass grow to 3 inches and then cut no more than 1 inch from the top. The “one third” rule helps develop a deeper root system that is a natural defense against weeds, disease and drought. Please visit DEC’s Lawn Care website for more information.

DEC also encourages homeowners to leave lawn debris after mowing to improve the health of the lawn. Grass clippings are 80% water and contain 2% to 4% nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients. Leaving clippings behind saves homeowners time after mowing and reduces the amount of waste. Grass clippings can make up 10% of the garbage.

Visit the DEC Lawn Fertilizer website for more information.

New York City’s Nutrient Runoff Act does not affect agricultural fertilizers or fertilizers for gardens.

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