Issue 11, July 7, 2015

Phosphorus Law Reminder for Illinois Turf Managers

Update 7/20/15 -- This article replaces the original version and adds clarification about exemptions.

Are you an applicator for hire who applies fertilizer to lawns? Does the fertilizer you use contain phosphorus? If so, you need to be aware of legislation that can affect you. In 2010, Illinois Legislature passed a bill that restricts any applicator for hire from applying phosphorus-containing fertilizers to a lawn unless a recently conducted soil test indicates a phosphorus (P) deficiency. Notably, homeowners are exempt from this requirement. Areas that are exempt include commercial farms, lands classified as agricultural lands, and golf courses. Product exemptions are discussed below. An Illinois Department of Agriculture Inspector noted that two applicators were found to be in violation in one week alone recently. Violators can find themselves charged with a penalty of $250 for the first violation. Penalties increase to $500 and $1,000 for second and subsequent violations, respectively.

Bagged fertilizer for lawns commonly contains phosphorus so it's important to be mindful of this law. Phosphorus is needed for plant growth, but when applied in excess, run-off can occur. High levels of phosphorus in lakes and streams can lead to toxic-algae blooms. A dozen or so states have similar laws.

Look on the bag to see what the N-P-K ratio is. The "P" stands for phosphorus. It should be 0 if the product is to be applied to established turf. As mentioned, there are exemptions. According to the act, lawn repair products are exempt. Manure naturally contains a small amount of phosphorus but is exempt as long as phosphorus has not been added to it. Additionally, the product label (provided there is one) must say it is "manure." The terms "natural" and "organic" are not enough to allow the application. Manure is mentioned specifically in the act.

As stated before, applications of any phosphorus containing fertilizer may be made commercially if soil test results justify the need. For more information on the standards for P fertilization for lawn turfs in Illinois, consult this article by Dr. Bruce Branham:

According to the rule, the required soil test shall be conducted no more than 36 months before the intended application. The Lawn Care Products Application and Notice Act (commonly referred to as the Lawn Care Act) can be found here:

Section 5a discusses fertilizer application restrictions.

Certainly, P may be applied at the time of establishment without a required soil test. Perhaps any large stocks can be utilized in this manner. Please keep in mind that in accordance with the Lawn Care Act, phosphorus can be used on newly established lawns for a maximum of 2 growing cycles. Then a soil test would be necessary. (Michelle Wiesbrook)

Michelle Wiesbrook

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