Fertilizer Reduction

The second largest controllable nitrogen source impacting our coastal ponds is the fertilizer used on lawns.

The Massachusetts Estuaries Project calculates about 10% of the nitrogen harming our estuaries comes from fertilizer! That is why Falmouth has enacted the Nitrogen Control Bylaw - Chapter 237 of the Falmouth Town Code.

Bylaw Restrictions

If you fertilize your lawn, or hire a landscaper to do so, this Bylaw applies to you. If any portion of your property comes to within 100 feet of a protected resource area listed in Falmouth Wetlands Regulations 10.02 (1) (a-d) including any: bank, freshwater wetland, coastal wetland, beach, dune, flat, marsh, swamp, wet meadow, bog, vernal pool, reservoir, creek, estuary, stream, pond, lake, the ocean or land under water bodies, the Bylaw bans any fertilizing in these areas. The Department of Marine and Environmental Services is charged with enforcing this bylaw, but voluntary citizen cooperation will be the key to its success.

The Bylaw bans fertilizing any part of your lawn between October 16th and April 14th, or directly before or during a heavy rain event. Don't spill fertilizer on paved surfaces and quickly clean it up if you do.


The Bylaw applies to nitrogen used to fertilize grass only. The Bylaw does not apply to fertilizer used on your flower and vegetable garden, greenhouse, houseplants, farm, or orchard. The Bylaw also does not apply to the establishment or repair of turf (after substantial damage) in its first growing season.

The Bylaw recommends that if you fertilize lawns not covered by the 100 feet prohibition, fertilize sparingly! The Bylaw encourages use of materials such as yard waste, compost or other similar materials that are primarily organic in nature to improve the physical condition of your soil.

Fertilizing Alternatives

It is easy to have a lush green lawn and stop using nitrogen fertilizer at the same time. Here's how:
  • Aeration
  • Leave grass clippings on lawn
  • Mow with sharp blades, keep grass at least 3 inches tall
  • Organic top dressing (compost)
  • Overseeding
  • Water deeply but infrequently

Did You Know

If you keep grass clippings on your lawn, you are effectively adding at least 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet during the growing season!

Top dressing with compost adds nitrogen to your turf, while at the same time provides other key benefits.

Compost is the habitat for both active and dormant biology. It is these organisms that make N available to turf. And, when compost continues to decompose, it adds not just nitrogen, but also potassium, phosphorus, and calcium to the soil. It also turns into humus. This creates healthy turf, where there is vigorous horizontal growth (i.e., the root systems grows horizontally).

If You Use Nitrogen, Do it Responsibly

  • Only use very small amounts of 100% slow-release nitrogen fertilizer (less than 1 pound per 1,000 square feet per year)
  • Don't fertilize between Oct 15 and April 15, and sweep up any spills
  • Don't fertilize during, or right before heavy rains
  • Don't use any fertilizer within 100 feet of wetlands either fresh or salt water; instead follow the "Here's How" advice above.