New York bans phosphorus? Huh?


Algae in Lake Erie. Courtesy of the Ohio Sierra Club.

For a state government that is generally immobilized under the
weight of its own bureaucracy, inefficiency, and stupidity, the crew in Albany have shown a certain activism when it comes to horticultural regulations.

I was taken by surprise when Layanee/Ledge and Garden drew my
attention to a bill passed in July that prohibits the sale of lawn fertilizers
that contain more than .67% of phosphorus by weight. I was totally dumbfounded
when I saw that the bill was introduced by my own State Senator. I have never
known him to do anything in the least bit interesting and/or useful. It must have been in one of the newsletters I get at least once a week and routinely toss.

Here’s the reasoning: there is a big problem with fertilizer
run-off and algae bloom in all of our local waterways, including, of course,
the Great Lakes, and several major clean-up initiatives are underway. Many
other pollutants are involved, but the problem with phosphorus is that one lb.
of it can produce up to 700 lbs. of algae.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Some lawn experts and scientists
think that there’s no need to ban phosphorus because healthy turf prevents run-off (and other factors), while even more say that banning
phosphorus won’t be a problem for synthetic fertilizer manufacturers, but might
put organic fertilizer companies out of business.

Here’s the Safe Lawns take on it, and here's the bill itself. I am pretty sure from my reading of the bill that this only applies to lawn treatments, not flower beds. It doesn’t take effect until 2013.

And this is the statement from my State Senator, who might recognize a daffodil if a bushel of them hit him in the face. 

I've never needed to use lawn fertilizer, and over the years I've begun to avoid the use of any fertilizer. In my garden now, I use some organic rose mixture 3x a summer, compost, and—I admit—some water soluble for containers a few times a summer. But I would be happy to forsake it all and go to compost alone (although this bill would not require it). If it helped clean Lake Erie, it would be worth it. We have some nice beaches.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. As I understand it most soils have adequate levels of P to begin with. The problem with .67% (how the hell did they come up that number?)is that bone meal 4-12-0 etc would be outlawed. This is a direct attack on organic fertilizer providers by the chemical industry that needs to be stopped. There is no way in hell that organic P pollutes like simple P does. So in the interest of being green the idiots in Albany have given green them a black and blue by this short sighted, jump on the band wagon, look what I did for the earth sound bite movement.

    The TROLL

  2. Thanks Greg. So the essence is, looks Good, lives Bad?

    Of course preparing your soil & using the right plant in the right spot you won’t need ANY fertilizer.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. Naturally, the biggest offenders (commercial establishments) are exempt.

    It also allows a loophole if you can prove your lawn needs it or if you’re establishing a new lawn.

    In short, it’s utterly superficial BS

  4. Perhaps I’m missing something, but why would anyone want a lawn fertilizer with phosphorus? Phosphorus (P) is primarily to promote bloom, something you don’t generally look for in a lawn. Yes, it also promotes root development, but so does potassium (K). I’ve never heard of anyone using bone meal on a lawn. As for organic P not being as polluting as synthetic P, I’m skeptical. Too much of a good thing is still too much and can do harm.

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