Landscapers say fertilizer runoff blame misdirected
They point to agriculture as bigger pollution problem for Bay
Professional landscapers and lawn care experts say they have been unfairly targeted by a new Maryland law that regulates fertilizer content and applications for both at-home and commercial use.
They point out that the fertilizer they use, like those available to homeowners, no longer contains the phosphorus known to be the major culprit in forming a dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay. The law previously applied only to agricultural applications.
"I'm all about saving the Bay, but the people who make the regulations are so clueless," said Rick Tolson of Property Care Inc. & Nursery in Mount Airy.
Professionals, he said, already are using a minimum amount of slow-release fertilizer and are spot-treating problem areas instead of using large amounts of chemicals on an entire lawn if it isn't necessary.
They point out they apply phosphorus only with new plantings and then only sparingly. Its use in agriculture is far more likely than in landscaping to cause runoff problems, they agree.
The new law "is giving the turf industry a black eye because of the false allegation that phosphorus is killing the Bay and we're the ones doing it," said Greg Crutchfield, owner of Lawn Aid Plus in Mount Airy.
Before any treatment is undertaken, professionals say, they test the soil to find out what it requires to support the best turf. This not only keeps chemicals that will not be used out of the ground, but is an important step for professionals who earn their living treating lawns.
"Why would we put something in the ground that costs money if it doesn't need it?" Crutchfield asked. "Nobody is out there dumping the stuff."
"Grass needs to be constantly fed, so it's best off with a couple of feedings" instead of one big one between March and September, said Jim Smith, owner of Royal Greens in Monrovia. "Too much fertilizer at once will simply not be used and any applied when the ground is frozen or that ends up on sidewalks or driveways will also make their way to the Bay."
The new state law bars the use of fertilizer when the ground is frozen or immediately adjacent to bodies of water. It prohibits the use of fertilizer as a de-icer and bans manufacturers from suggesting this use on labels. Applicators must be certified or supervised by a professional.
The law is a big win for environmentalists who consider lawn chemical runoff a major source of Bay pollution. This threat has gotten larger, they say, since turf has become the state's largest crop, surpassing corn, and soon is expected to surpass all agricultural crops combined.
A report by the Chesapeake Bay Commission states "14 percent of the nitrogen and 8 percent of the phosphorus pollution in the Bay can be traced back to urban and suburban nonpoint sources, predominately fertilizer runoff."
Crutchfield said he thinks the new law could force professional applicators to require more frequent lawn feedings. "It runs the cost up" and could force homeowners apply fertilizer themselves to save money.
Smith disagrees and he expects the new law to have no effect on his business, although he acknowledges his bottom line is already being squeezed by the rising cost of fertilizer.
"There's a lot you can't pass along to the consumer," he said.