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Free your lawns from phosphorus to protect our water

April 27, 2017
Editorial , Lake Placid News

We'd like to echo the state Department of Environmental Conservation's push to promote the practice of sustainable lawn care by going phosphorus free, using native plants and grasses and reducing fertilizer use.

Here in the Adirondack Park, where water is one of our most precious natural resources for everyday living and the tourism economy, keeping our waterways clean should be one of our highest priorities. Yet, even with recent efforts to keep salt from running off Lake Placid's roadways in the winter, our lakes and rivers are still getting more salt than they should, leading to untold environmental impacts to the animals living in those waterways. The same goes for phosphorus used in fertilizers, which runs into our waterways every time it rains.

"Excess phosphorous is causing problems in many New York water bodies, making them unusable for swimming, fishing, or as a source of drinking water," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "I urge residents to 'look for the zero' and buy phosphorous-free fertilizer this spring. By eliminating phosphorus and reducing pesticide use on lawns, New Yorkers can play an important role in addressing water quality impairments across the state."

With more than 100 water bodies in the state unable to be used or enjoyed as a result of too much phosphorus, the DEC launched the "Look for the Zero" campaign to encourage New Yorkers to purchase phosphorus-free lawn fertilizer.

"The actions New Yorkers take in their backyards can have a big impact on the environment," Seggos said. "By choosing sustainable lawn care, homeowners are helping protect water quality and public health."

New York's nutrient runoff law prohibits the use of phosphorus lawn fertilizers unless a new lawn is being established or a soil test shows that the lawn does not have enough phosphorus.

Generally, only newly established lawns or those with poor soil need phosphorus. Phosphorus applied to lawns that don't need it will not be used and can cause water pollution. Regardless of the location, excess phosphorus from lawns can wash off and pollute lakes and streams, harming fish and ruining boating and swimming.

The nutrient runoff law does not affect agricultural fertilizer or fertilizer for gardens.

Consumers should review fertilizer bag labels for phosphorus content. Fertilizer labels have three bold numbers. The number in the middle is the percentage of phosphorus in the product, such as: 22-0-15. The state's law requires retailers to display phosphorus fertilizer separately from phosphorus-free fertilizer and post signs notifying customers of the terms of the law.

Homeowners have several options to practice more sustainable lawn care. The DEC encourages people to choose native plants and grasses, which 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 can easily be implemented on any lawn. Safe and effective alternatives exist for most chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic lawn care treatments promote deep root systems, natural photosynthesis, and longer grass growth.

Learn more online at the DEC's sustainable landscaping page at



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