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Scotts Miracle-Gro to finally phase out phosphorus

Consumer Reports News: March 25, 2011 12:25 PM

Scotts Miracle-Gro plans to remove phosphorus from its top-selling TurfBuilder fertilizer by the end of 2012. The move, announced this week, was favorably received but some environmentalists and competitors think Scotts is a little late to the lawn party—especially since 14 states have banned, limited or plan to pass laws that phase out use of the greening agent because of the damage it causes to waterways.

Paul Tukey, who runs Safelawns, a non-profit trade group for producers of organic lawn care products, said Scotts’ decision, while appreciated, was a long time coming. “The latest move has merit as it’s going to cut the amount of phosphorus going into watersheds,” he said. “And with over 50 percent of the U.S. fertilizer market, they are the elephant in the room, and their marketing clout is going to be help move phosphorus-free products.”

Scotts spokesman Lance Latham noted that phosphorus-free versions of TurfBuilder have been available in some states since 2006 and that the company believes that mature lawns have enough phosphorus to thrive if properly cared for. Pennington Seed, a major competitor, has been selling phosphorus-free lawn fertilizers for three years and a spokesman said they now account for 80 percent of sales.

Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin have imposed limits or bans on fertilizers containing phosphorus and Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington are considering legislation. Both Scotts and Pennington support the restrictions, as long as the laws make exceptions for starter and organic fertilizers, since neither company has found an alternative to phosphorus that fosters early-stage grass growth. The organic fertilizers produced by both companies have much lower levels of phosphorus.

There are ways to get a green lawn without phosphorus. Here’s how:

  • Get a soil test at your local cooperative extension office to determine the nutrient needs of your lawn so you can avoid over-fertilization.

  • Mow your grass high, which reduces storm runoff.

  • Add lime, sulfur, high-calcium limestone, humus or compost if a soil test shows a pH number of less than 7.2, the point at which naturally occurring phosphorus in the soil can’t reach the roots of the grass.

  • Use your mower or riding mower’s mulching mode, which returns phosphorus and other nutrients to the soil and reduces watering needs.

A healthy lawn needs proper mowing. Consumer Reports spring lawn mower tests have been completed and the results are online now.

Gian Trotta

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