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Garden Plot: New Md. lawn-care laws now in effect

Friday - 11/1/2013, 9:24am  ET

Time is running out to fertilize your lawn - legally, at least - in Maryland. (Getty)

New Md. lawn-care laws are now in effect

Rick in Rockville is one of many procrastinators out there who have tarried with their turf.

"Is it too cold to put fertilizer and lime on the lawn now?" he writes.

First, don't put lime on your lawn unless a soil test shows it's necessary. Lime is not a lawn food. It's only used to bring up a low soil pH, and it does more harm than good if your soil isn't overly acidic.

It's also getting pretty late in the season to feed, both technically and, since you live in Maryland, legally. That's right - legally.

Maryland's brand new lawn fertilizer law, designed to protect our poor beleaguered Chesapeake Bay, went into effect last month. The law makes it illegal for homeowners to fertilize their lawn between Nov. 15 and March 1. So if you're going to do this, you have less than two weeks left.

And be sure to use a legal lawn food - one that provides less than one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of turf.

New fertilizer laws will protect the Bay - and your lawn

The state's new lawn-fertilizer laws are designed to mediate the excessive nutrient runoff that has long threatened our fragile and priceless Chesapeake Bay. The new law limits the potency and types of fertilizers legal for sale in the state, prohibits any lawn fertilization within 15 feet of a waterway - or anywhere just before a heavy rain is predicted - and prohibits applying fertilizer to frozen soil (d'uh!).

While homeowners are prohibited from feeding between Nov. 15 and March 1, professionals have a slightly longer window, until Dec. 1. But they must be certified by the state and abide by almost all of the other prohibitions.

Do these regulations seem heavy-handed? Will they tatter your turf? Not at all. Lawn foods account for a staggering 44 percent of all the fertilizers sold in the state, and these new regulations will simply prevent waste and overfeeding, which is as bad for your lawn as it is for the Bay. Any fertilizer applied after the deadline wouldn't be used by the grass anyway; it would have all washed right into the Bay.

Follow the new regs, cut no lower than three inches, return your clippings to the turf and I predict your lawn will look better than when you were allowed to feed it until it glowed in the dark.

Follow this link to the new regulations, with a tip of the Garden Plot feed cap to the state for making it 100 percent easy to read and understand.

Virginia's new lawn-fertilizer laws will take effect next year - some parts on Jan. 1 and the rest July 1. They're very similar to Maryland's.

"Can I still sow seed?"

Rick in Rockville has another question regarding his turf tardiness: "Is it too cold to overseed now?"

We've now left the realm of a sure thing and are now in gambling mode.

There is still a chance that seed sown now could sprout and grow some nice roots before an extended freeze. But there is also an equal chance that the soil has become too cold and the seed would just sit there, eventually feeding mice and voles.

If you already have the seed in hand, then yes, spread it. It would lose too much vitality between now and next August to be worth trying to save. After you spread it, cover the new seed with some compost or high-quality topsoil. That'll give you your best shot at success.

But if you haven't purchased the seed yet, forget about it, and make a note on next year's calendar to achieve this chore at the ideal time - Aug. 15 to Sept. 15. That's when everybody's a winner.

Leaves left on the lawn?

Susie Q in Prince William County writes, "We live in the woods (not really, but we have lots of leaves). My dear hubby recently overseeded our lawn and will not allow me to remove all the leaves that are landing on it. He says he'll run the lawn mower over them once all the leaves have fallen. I say that this will smother the grass. If you tell me he is correct, I will bake him a cake. If not, I'm going to rake and make compost!"

No cake for him, Susie!

Whole leaves should never be left on a lawn for any amount of time; they will smother new grass and old. Because some of your grass is young and tender, nix on raking. It could really tear up the turf.

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