What you need to know about Montgomery Co. pesticide ban

With a legal battle in the rearview mirror, Montgomery County, Maryland, is moving forward with its plan to educate residents about its law banning the use of pesticides on lawns.

The county has begun sending mailers to homes with details on what can and cannot be used on lawns.

Mary Travaglini, program manager for Montgomery County’s organic lawn and landscape program, said many of the weed and feed products residents have grown accustomed to are no longer legal on lawns, playgrounds, recreational areas or child care facilities in the county.

“None of those would be allowed for use in the county, because they all contain restricted pesticides which are not allowed underneath the law,” said Travaglini.

One way to tell which products are banned is to check containers or bags for an Environmental Protection Agency registration number, she said. If it has an “EPA Reg. No.,” without any other organic labeling or certifications on it, it is most likely banned.

The county said the changes are aimed at protecting the environment. But once passed, the 2015 law was quickly challenged in court by some residents, lawn care providers, and the pesticide industry. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the ban in May, allowing the law to remain in effect.

So what can be used?

Products that are certified by the Organic Materials Review. Those products can be identified by a label that says “OMRI LISTED.”

Also, any product that is considered a minimum risk pesticide and doesn’t require an EPA registration number can be used. Labels for those products include “Exempt from EPA labeling under FIFRA 25(b).”

Finally, any product listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “for organic gardening” are OK.

Pesticides that are used to fight stinging and biting insects and such disease carriers as mosquitoes and ticks are also exempt from the law.

While, theoretically, $50 fines could be handed out, Travaglini said the goal over the next few months is to educate the community.

“If people are flagrantly disobeying the law, then we can issue the civil fine,” she said.

Travaglini said residents are encouraged to learn more about organic gardening, which she said was in practice before chemicals gained popularity.

“Organic lawn care is actually not that difficult,” said Travaglini.

Leaving grass clippings on lawns to provide nitrogen to the grass and overseeding in the spring to prevent weeds are some of the ways that a lawn can be kept healthy, Travaglini said. And cutting grass at over 3 inches can help shade the ground and prevent weeds from germinating, she said. Also, only watering lawns during dry spells or times of extreme stress works at limiting weed growth.

Some municipalities are exempt from the law. They include Gaithersburg, Rockville and Chevy Chase. Garrett Park, Laytonsville, Kensington, Poolesville, Somerset and Washington Grove are also exempt.

For more information about what can and cannot be used — and for information on gardening organically — visit the county’s website.

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