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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Water Protection > Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law

Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law

Report on Law's Effectiveness

The Minnesota Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law directed the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to report in 2007 on the effectiveness of phosphorus lawn fertilizer restrictions. That report, Effectiveness of the Minnesota Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law, was completed March 15, 2007. Both the full 41-page report and a three page summary are available.

Minnesota Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law - A Summary

Minnesota’s Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law, was enacted to reduce over-enrichment of rivers, lakes, and wetlands with the nutrient phosphorus. Excessive phosphorus in surface water leads to an overabundance of algae and other aquatic plants.

The law was enacted over a period of years starting in 2002. Restriction on phosphorus fertilizer use on lawns and turf started in 2004 in the seven county Twin Cities metro area and in Minnesota’s other 80 counties in 2005. As of January 2007, Minnesota is the only state in the nation which regulates phosphorus fertilizer use on lawns and turf.

 Bag of phosphorus-free fertilizer

Look for the middle number: The three numbers on a fertilizer container lists its percent nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content, in that order. A zero in the middle means a phosphorus-free fertilizer.

Full text of the law is found in Minnesota’s Fertilizer, Soil Amendment, and Plant Amendment Law, Chapter 18C of the Minnesota State Statutes. References to specific sections of the law are given below.

Use of Phosphorus Fertilizer on Lawns and Turf is Restricted (Minnesota Statutes 18C.60)
Fertilizers containing phosphorus cannot be used on lawns and turf in Minnesota unless one of the following situations exists:

  • A soil test or plant tissue test shows a need for phosphorus.
  • A new lawn is being established by seeding or laying sod.
  • Phosphorus fertilizer is being applied on a golf course by trained staff.
  • Phosphorus fertilizer is being applied on farms growing sod for sale.

When these situations do not exist, state law requires phosphorus-free lawn fertilizer is to be used. The nutrient value of a fertilizer is indicated by a series of three numbers printed on its container. The numbers represent percent nutrient content of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, in that order. A fertilizer marked with 22-0-15, for example, is phosphorus-free as the middle number is zero. Zero is defined to be less than 0.67% phosphate.

When used, phosphorus lawn fertilizer needs to be applied at rates recommended by the University of Minnesota and approved by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. These rates are based on soil test results and can be found in the University of Minnesota Extension publication Fertilizing Lawns (FO-03338).

Options for using or disposing surplus phosphorus lawn fertilizer.

Fertilizer on Paved Surfaces Needs to be Cleaned Up (Minnesota Statues 18C.61)
Fertilizer spilled or spread on paved surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, and streets needs to be cleaned up immediately to prevent it from washing away into rivers, lakes and wetlands. This applies to all fertilizers, whether or not they contain phosphorus or not.

Enforcement (Minnesota Statues 18C.62)
Restrictions and prohibitions in this law are enforced by local units of government under their existing authority. Violations are treated as petty misdemeanors.

Preemption of Local Law (Minnesota Statues 18C.110)
Local units of government may not adopt or enforce ordinances regulating the sale, handling, use or disposal of phosphorus lawn fertilizers. Exceptions to this are local ordinances regulating the sale (not use) of phosphorus lawn fertilizer which were in effect on August 1, 2002.

Local units of government may not prohibit or regulate the sale, handling or use of phosphorous fertilizers for agricultural use (growing of crops including sod farms).

Consumer Information (Minnesota Statues 18C.60)
Consumer information needs to be provided by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in consultation with the University of Minnesota, fertilizer industry, lakes groups, and others.

Research Evaluation and Reporting (Minnesota Statues 18C.60)
Evaluation of research needs to be done by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture cooperation with the University of Minnesota and in consultation with fertilizer industry, lakes groups, and others. A report on the effectiveness of the phosphorus law is due to the legislature in 2007.

Definition of 0% Phosphate
Minnesota Rule 1510.0420 sets the "investigational allowance" for the analysis of phosphorus fertilizers at 0.67% phosphate (analysis of phosphorus fertilizer is given in terms of phosphate, P2O5). Minnesota Statutes 18C.211 requires nutrient analysis of specialty fertilizers (which includes lawn fertilizer) not to exceed or be below this amount. Therefore to be labeled 0% phosphate, a lawn fertilizer cannot contain more than 0.67% phosphate by weight.

Definition of "Local Unit of Government"
"Local unit of government" means a statutory or home rule charter city, town, county, soil and water conservation district, watershed district, another special purpose district, and local or regional board (Minnesota Statutes 18B.01, subd. 14a).

MDA Contact

Ron Struss
Pesticide & Fertilizer Management Division