WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — The cutoff date for fertilizing lawns in New York State is fast approaching. It is against state law to fertilize lawns between December 1 and April 1. Some areas also have local laws about selling and using lawn fertilizers.

The NYS Nutrient Runoff Law limits the amount of phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and restricts the time of year when fertilizers can be used.  The law is meant to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the state’s waters. When purchasing lawn fertilizer, NYS DEC recommends checking the bag for a set of three numbers and choosing one with a zero in the middle. The three numbers indicate the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer.

Phosphorus is one of the leading causes of water pollution. Excess phosphorus from lawns can pollute bodies of water, harming fish and affecting recreational activities like boating and swimming. More than 100 bodies of water throughout the state can’t be used for drinking, fishing or swimming due to the amount of phosphorus they contain.

Retailers who sell fertilizers in New York State must display fertilizer that contains phosphorus separately from those that are free from the mineral.

The law applies to:

  • Homeowners applying fertilizer themselves
  • Landscapers and lawn care professionals
  • Pesticide applicators
  • Retailers, distributors and manufacturers of lawn fertilizers
  • Fertilizer and pesticide combination products when the products contain over .67% phosphorus, sometimes called “weed and feeds”
  • Organic phosphorus fertilizers, such as bone meal

The law does not apply to:

  • Use of products with .67 in the middle or lower
  • Agricultural fertilizer or fertilizer for trees, shrubs or gardens
  • Compost

According the New York State DEC, the penalties for an owner, owner’s agent or household occupant include the issuance of a written warning with education materials for a first violation, a fine of up to $100 for a second violation and fines up to $250 for further violations. The penalties for all others include a fine of up to $500 for a first violation and fines up to $1,000 for further offenses.

The Nutrient Runoff Law also prevents retailers in New York State from selling dish detergents that contain phosphorus.