TRENTON – With many people turning their thoughts to spring gardening, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin reminded residents to be mindful of the environment when applying lawn fertilizers and to obey a new law Gov. Christie recently signed to protect New Jersey’s waterways from misapplication of these products.
“New Jersey’s new fertilizer law, the toughest in the nation, provides the framework for growing a healthy lawn while reducing pollution to our waterways. Earth Week is a perfect time to begin thinking more carefully about how we use fertilizers,” Martin said. “Taking greater care in how we apply them is one of the simplest things we can do to make a huge difference in protecting our environment.
“No doubt a green and healthy lawn gives many of us a great sense of pride and accomplishment,” Martin added. “But many people tend to overuse fertilizers or apply them sloppily, leading to degraded water quality from too many nutrients being carried with stormwater runoff into our streams, lakes, rivers and bays.”
Christie signed the legislation earlier this year as part of a three-bill initiative to improve water quality across New Jersey and, in particular, for the ecologically stressed Barnegat Bay, which has been hard hit by excessive nutrient pollution. The new law effectively replaces a patchwork of local ordinances that have had varying standards.
The law requires consumers to follow best management practices when using fertilizers; sets a requirement for creation of a certification program for lawn care providers; and ultimately requires manufacturers to reformulate fertilizers to decrease the total amount of nitrogen in their products and increase the amount of slow-release nitrogen they contain. In addition, the law prohibits use of phosphorous in fertilizer for turf unless a soil test indicates it is needed.
The first phase of the law went into effect immediately with the signing of the legislation on Jan. 5, and requires the use of best management practices to reduce the impacts of fertilizers on waterways. Specifically:
- Consumers may not apply lawn fertilizers from Nov. 15 through March; professionals may not apply them from Dec. 1 through March 1.
- Fertilizer application is banned during winter months or when the ground remains frozen.
- Fertilizer application is prohibited during – or just before – heavy rainfall.
- Fertilizers may not be applied within 25 feet of any water body except when applied in a way that will limit their outward spread to 10 feet, such as with a drop spreader, targeted spray or rotary spreader equipped with a deflector.
Consumers and professionals must limit the amount of nitrogen they apply per application as well as during the course of the year.
“In general, if you follow label directions regarding application rates and frequency of applications you should be able to comply with the intent of the law,” said Barry Chalofsky, Chief of the DEP’s Bureau of Nonpoint Pollution Control. “Also take a few extra minutes to sweep up stray granules of fertilizer from pavement.”
Additional components of the law will be phased in over the next two years. Beginning Jan. 5, 2012, all professional applicators will be required to become certified through the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University. Rutgers is developing the program in consultation with the DEP’s Healthy Lawns, Healthy Water work group, which includes the lawn care industry, environmental community, fertilizer industry and academic community.
By Jan. 5, 2013 all fertilizer products sold in New Jersey for turf must contain at least 20 percent slow-release nitrogen, , a requirement that will allow grass to more naturally absorb nitrogen and minimize impacts to waterways. Manufacturers are already making low- and zero-phosphorous fertilizers available to consumers in New Jersey through an agreement with the DEP.
Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients required for plant growth. A limited amount of these nutrients is important for healthy plant life. Too much, however, can actually harm lawns and, when washed into waterways by rainfall, stimulates excessive algae and weed growth that depletes dissolved oxygen in the water and reduces the sunlight needed for healthy aquatic life. Not only is this unhealthy for fish and other aquatic life, it is unsightly and degrades the recreational value of waterways.
The law does not establish state fines for consumers but municipalities have the discretion to set penalties. The law allows the state to fine professional applicators up to $500 for the first offense or $1,000 for a second offense beginning next year.
For details on the law and tips on eco-friendly lawn care, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/healthylawnshealthywater/
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