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May 07th
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New Jersey's new fertilizer laws: obey or pay

grass090910_optBY PAM LOBLEY

Although it’s snowing today, it is officially spring, and that can mean only one thing. My husband’s love affair with his lawn can pick up again.

But he’ll have to be careful as he tends to his grass this year, because New Jersey has some strict new laws about fertilizer use – actually the most restrictive of its type in the nation – and a person can be fined $500 for a first offense.

The law has to do with when and how you can apply fertilizer and to the fertilizer itself. The reason for this is that fertilizer can run off into the groundwater, and excessive nitrogen (a prime ingredient in fertilizer) in the groundwater has been linked to a type of anemia called blue baby syndrome, cancer, and decreased thyroid function, among other problems. When it ends up in lakes and streams it robs the water of oxygen, harming marine life.

The new law stipulates that fertilizers must contain at least 20 percent of their nutrients as slow-release nitrogen. I don’t understand this, but I’m thinking the Scotts company does. I’m hoping they’re going to make it real clear on the label. The law will also eliminate the use of phosphorus, which is seen as a primary factor in the pollution of the Passaic River and New Jersey lakes. An agreement was signed between Lisa Jackson, the former state environmental commissioner, and several manufacturers, that will phase it out over the next few years. Apparently, there is already plenty of phosphorus in New Jersey’s soil.

Homeowners must be sure to avoid putting down fertilizer right before it rains, to avoid run off. You must not fertilize within 10 feet of a body of water, and you must be careful not to get any on the pavement, where it would simply get washed away into the groundwater. And you can’t fertilize between Nov. 15 and March 1. I guess that ruins the popular Christmas fertilizing season.

We already have a strict lawn care regimen at my house, but it doesn’t have to do with fertilizer. It has to do with the dog.

The dog is sort of the opposite of fertilizer: where he pees, the grass dies. And then, a part of my husband dies with it.

My husband loves his soft, green grass. He leans out his bedroom window first thing every summer morning to look at it. He curses the squirrels that dig holes in it. He clenches his teeth when the kids play on it. “Hey guys,” he’ll shout, “why don’t you take your shoes off?” Bare feet are less damaging than sneakers.

The dog is allowed on the lawn Nov. – April. Those are the months we can let him out in the backyard and not worry about where he “goes”. After that, he is strictly supervised so that if any one of the family sees him squat, we go to Def Con Four.

First – someone shouts the alert and runs to stand next to the dog, marking the spot. Someone else goes and retrieves a large bucket of water, which we always have at the ready, to pour over the spot and soak it, thereby hopefully minimizing the damage. If by some hideous mistake the bucket is not at the ready, someone must drag the hose out from the patio, shoving innocent dinner guests out of the way, as the muddy hose is flopped across the grass to the offending area. Then another person has to turn on the water, (NOW TURN IT ON NOW!) and saturate the area.

This works fairly well, but is not fool-proof. When a dreaded brown spot appears, my husband will dig up a piece of lawn from behind the garage, and patch it in. Sometimes, he will have to reseed the area, and perhaps he will fertilize it.

He won’t mind sticking to the new rules, because as you can see, tough regulations regarding the lawn are nothing new to my family. As far as the new laws go, lawn care professionals will be undergoing training and education: professional applicators will be certified through the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University starting in 2012. But if you do your own lawn, or just want to know the laws, you can get all your questions answered here.

And now I think I’ll let the dog out in the back yard. Just as soon as it stops snowing.

Pam Lobley writes the “Now That’s Funny” column. Sign up for her mailing list at


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Comments (1)
1 Wednesday, 23 March 2011 20:40
Wells Rawls
Sound like he has aspergers syndrome. He too obsessed with his lawn. I think it's a common thing among men. We have to control everything. The lawn is simple to understand.

"Ugg... iput bag of stuff on grass and grass get green. no green-more stuff."

Tell him to smoke some pot and relax. And give the dog a break!

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