Watch your lawn fertilizer — to protect the Great Lakes


By Angelica Morrison

This story originally appeared on Great Lakes Today and is republished here with permission.

The Great Lakes have been struggling for years in its battle against phosphorous loading. While experts say much of the phosphorous is coming from farms, there’s plenty the average gardener can do to help keep from adding to the problem.

Some state governments along the Great Lakes corridor are taking a proactive approach. In New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation is urging homeowners to practice “sustainable lawn care.”

The state launched a “look for zero” campaign aimed at encouraging residents to use phosphorus free fertilizer. The DEC says the use of phosphorus lawn fertilizers is prohibited due to the nutrient runoff law, but it is allowed for newly established lawns or lawns that lack phosphorus.

“The actions New Yorkers take in their backyards can have a big impact on the environment. By choosing sustainable lawn care, homeowners are helping protect water quality and public health,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Excess phosphorous is causing problems in many New York waterbodies, making them unusable for swimming, fishing, or as a source of drinking water.”

Most fertilizer products have three numbers on them — nitrogen phosphorus and potassium. The number representing phosphorous is in the middle, and it should be at zero, because it fertilizes more than just a lawn.

“It does the same thing in the lake, it fertilizes the algae that we don’t want, and it creates harmful algal blooms,” said Sea Grant educator, Helen Domske in Buffalo. “And that’s why the state has really made an effort to have homeowners look for that zero in the middle. And, if they remember the zero in the middle means zero pollution.”

Other ways to decrease the amount of phosphorus coming from your yard, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is to keep leaves, lawn clippings and animal waste out of the street. When it rains, those items can flow into the storm water overflows. For more tips visit


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