Phosphorus-free for Lake Mitchell

Legislative News -- New Law Limits the Use of Phosphorus Fertilizers on Lawns
by Howard Wandell

The legislature passed and Governor Granholm signed Public Act 299 of 2010 into law. This new legislation limits the application of fertilizers containing phosphorus to lawns in Michigan. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2012.

In most Michigan soils phosphorus is in abundant supply and additional phosphorus is not needed to grow healthy lawns. The excess phosphorus can wash off the land with rain runoff or seep into the groundwater and migrate to the lake through the soil. Consequently in most situations in Michigan phosphorus fertilizer is an unnecessary cost and a potential water pollutant.

Michigan joins Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and New York with similar legislation. The law does exempt agricultural applications of phosphorus fertilizers and certain applications for maintaining golf courses.

A homeowner can still use fertilizers containing phosphorus if they have a soil test done documenting that the soil is deficient in phosphorus and that application of the nutrient is necessary. Additionally, phosphorus fertilizer can be applied if the home owner is establishing a new lawn and phosphorus will aid in germination.

The new law also limits the application of any fertilizer to turf less than 15 feet from surface water unless there is a 10 foot wide native vegetative buffer or the spreader has a guard that shields the application and is not applied less than 3 feet from the water.

The State’s lake management community has been working for several years to bring this law to reality. Enforcement of the law will be difficult, but as an educational tool hopefully people will understand the importance of keeping fertilizer particularly phosphorus fertilizer out of Michigan lakes.

Selma and Cherry Grove Township Boards have passed a Township Resolution opposing the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus within 500 feet of Lake Mitchell. The resolution provides an exemption from the phosphorus-free provision if soil samples taken to the Michigan Extension Office on Lake Street, show a phosphorus deficiency or during the first season that a new lawn is established. Soil studies show that virtually all hard ground area around our lake has a natural abundance of phosphorus.

Michigan’s Ottawa County has passed an ordinance banning the sale and use of phosphorus fertilizers. Allegan County is voting on a similar ordinance in the near future. Other Michigan communities have also adopted ordinances restricting use of phosphorus.

Phosphorus-free fertilizers are available at the following locations:

The 13th Street Market and Helsel Bruce Tree Farm Nursery (779-1414) located on the corner of 13th Street and M-115 has phosphorus-free fertilizer available.

Grahek’s Greenery (775-9362) on 515 East 13th Street also has a four-step fertilizer program that are all phosphate-free.

Home Depot - On west side of 131 near Boon Road.

McBain Co-Op - 101 N. Pine Street in McBain

Lake Weeds Love Phosphorus

Phosphorus, a key ingredient in lawn fertilizers, stimulates the growth of aquatic weeds and algae. As it turns sandbars into weed beds, covers gravel beds with slime and waving mosses, as well as clouds clear water with an over abundance of microscopic plant life. More plant life produces more dead plant material and the accelerated decay of plant matter robs the water of oxygen supply. Meanwhile the phosphorus accumulates in the decayed material and continues to stimulate growth. One pound of phosphorus could result in over 500 pounds of wet algae.

Keep your lawn green and our lake clean

On fertilizer packages there are three numbers, the middle number indicates phosphorus content. The numbers 30-0-4 on a package of fertilizer shows there is no phosphorus. When contracting lawn care services such as Trugreen or Chemlawn, insist that they use phosphorus-free products. Encourage your neighbors not to use phosphorus fertilizers as well.

Test your soil before fertilizing. If you must use a fertilizer, use a non-phosphorus fertilizer and a slow-release nitrogen source. The slow-release nitrogen will allow less of an impact on the lake since only two applications, spring and fall are required.