Health & Wellness Landscaping

Pesticide Laws in Montgomery County…And, Why Everyone Should Pay Attention

As I sat down to research and write this article, I had two thoughts: Either, I could make it fast and say it’s just not possible to treat lawns anymore. Or I could write a sequel to Macbeth and bore us all into tears. Luckily, I opted for somewhere in between. To completely understand what’s going on we need to break this into 5 categories. Those are divided into why the restrictions, what’s not allowed, vendor requirements, what are my organic options.

I can promise you these restrictions weren’t put in place to annoy and confuse all of us. As much as it seems. The idea behind all this is to legitimately reduce the environmental impacts. Which even as a landscaper I do agree with. Remember when blue crabs were cheap and plentiful? Back on topic…through many years of testing, Maryland has decided that the toxic chemicals can be detrimental to humans, the environment, and can have developmental effects on children. It’s easy to say “oh jeez people are becoming such snowflakes,” however, it is becoming evident that the bee population has been in a serious decline, clean water has become more scarce (anybody want a nice cold glass of Lake Needlewood?), which has had direct links to very serious health effects like pediatric cancers, behavioral problems, and diabetes among many others. While I feel as though we went from one extreme to the next and the blame might have been put in the wrong areas, it has become obvious that something needed to be done to correct where we were headed.

So, what’s not allowed? Again, to keep this article short, nothing but fertilizer, and organics. In all seriousness though if you have turf, playgrounds, mulched areas including parks, and childcare facilities then you need to know the requirements that apply to you. The law dictates that if there is an EPA registration number the contractor won’t be allowed to apply it. Unless the label also positively states “Allowed” then you are ok to use it. Confused yet? So am I…if you ever have questions on a specific product I would encourage emailing askdep@montgomerycountymd.gov  The important thing to remember is that fertilizer is still allowed. In laymen terms, fertilizer is the equivalent to food for humans. You’ll still be fine when it comes to promoting healthy crop of turf, which means that not all hope is lost. I’ll get more into this in the “what are organics” section.

What does this mean for my landscape company or supplier of pest services? The most important thing for them to do and you as the customer is follow-up. This doesn’t just mean making sure they actually applied the chemical but instead letting everyone else know something was applied. This law has been around since I can remember but in Montgomery County it has become even more important to flag the treated areas. The flag can be as basic as a caution sign and as fancy as a miniature billboard for the company that performed the work. The important items to check for are the date the service was applied, the name of licensed applicator and a telephone number where the company can be reached. Should you have already begun applying organics it would be advantageous to make sure your company is also marking it as an organic treatment. As this solves a lot of headaches in false reporting. Lastly, the flag should remain in the turf for 48 hours after application.

While I’m not in the business of telling people how to do their jobs, I would highly encourage more information over less. Make the community aware of what is being applied and when prior to any applications going down to prevent future headaches.

We all know that one resident who has sensitivity. They are encouraged to register through the Maryland Department of Agriculture which will help the state identify and inform those people individually.

So now that I’ve been told what’s wrong with chemicals, that I can’t apply anything, and if I do what I need to do, am I officially out of options? Will organics effectively work? Please know that not all hope is lost. The truest form of weed control is a healthy thick lawn. I have a friend who used to aerate his lawn once a month and watered once a week for 30 minutes each area. It was literally the healthiest and weed free grass I ever saw. This was a direct result of his lawn’s root system having air to grow stronger roots and allowed access to nutrients and water to reach those root systems. All of this resulted in thick blades of grass that wouldn’t allow weeds to flourish. Certainly not the most feasible option for all of us in the commercial world but it does show what is capable. As mentioned in this story, the most important thing to remember regarding lawn care is that you are rebuilding your soil structure. As I alluded to earlier, the soil structure will allow the root system to thrive and build a thick healthy strain of grass. The following are examples of ways to begin the process now. While they all aren’t completely cost-effective overtime, you will see results and reduced costs.

I continually ask customers why they want to aerate and seed for the sake of doing it. Instead I encourage communities to use that money in designated locations to add organic composted soil, then aerate and seed.  Each fall pick a new location that the budget will allow for to perform this service. This alone will help to break up compaction and introduce organic matter and microbes back into your soil. One option I don’t hear as often is asking for grass to be bagged and allow the landscaper to finely chop leaves back into the soil. Both of these also allow organic material to get directly into the soil. Have your irrigation company change the watering to once or twice a week for longer periods of time as opposed to every day for short bursts. This will force the root system to look for the water growing longer and healthier. Pay less attention to mowing height and more attention to how much is being removed. For a typical mowing visit you don’t want to take off more than 1/3 of the blade of grass. At Greenscape we set our blades higher in the spring then we do the rest of the year for this exact reason. This is why our customers don’t see the yellow tint as a result of taking off too much at once. Enough about the grass, what about the weeds in the sidewalks?! I’ve heard vinegar and salt works?! This really needs its own article and an 8-hour class as opposed to a few words. In short, in the past I have used different organic chemicals that are available to contractors. Are they as effective as Round-Up? Absolutely not, but they do work and have their place if applied more frequently than the maintenance crew walking around at the end of each visit. Salt and vinegar at its core is a simple idea; the salt burns the leaf structure resulting in the browning of the leaves and the vinegar kills the root structure. Which would mean a weed free sidewalk in theory.

Unfortunately, it does require a lot more spraying/visits than what we are all accustomed to and the results take time. All organics at their core require time and patience. As we all move to more regulations across Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia, it is important to stay up to date on what is coming and how to get ahead of it. Organics are not designed to give you a golf course overnight but with proper planning, partnering with your contractor, and a willingness to change now for our future generations, not all hope is lost. I can promise that our children’s children will reap the rewards and that is why everyone should pay attention.


By Dave Foreman

Dave is the Business Development Manager for Greenscape, Inc., a Massachusetts-based company that has been serving the DC Metro area for 10 years. He joined Greenscape in the fall of 2018, bringing with him over 20 years of landscaping experience. Dave’s vast landscape knowledge and dedication to customer service is a huge asset to Greenscape’s clients and the people that he meets in his travels.

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