Weed-and-Feed Products in Canada

Fertilizers and pesticides sold separately are still okay.

Bulk fertilizer
Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

In a simple, common sense ruling, Health Canada decided in 2010 to no longer allow the coupling of pesticides and fertilizers in combination products. In other words, they can no longer be sold as one combined product, commonly known as weed and feed. It's kind of a federal Canadian stamp of approval on a trend among many provinces and municipalities to ban all cosmetic herbicides, without actually going that far.

What Ontario Did First

Among those provincial precursors of the federal ban is Ontario's strict ban of cosmetic herbicides. "The Ontario ban goes far beyond what other provincial and state governments have done limiting the use of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides...The vast majority are abiding by the rules, and [an Ontario Environment Ministry] study of 10 urban streams shows an 80 percent drop in the three most common chemicals found in pesticides," the Toronto Star reported. That said, the paper also reported opposition to the Ontario ban is strong and that some consumers manage to buy weed-and-feed products in the United States and get them through Canadian Customs on their return.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, which has reported a rise in children being affected by toxic chemicals, lauded Ontario's ban as "the best in North America...in terms of health protection. There’s nothing close to it in North America. It takes about 250 toxic products off the market so that children, in particular, are not exposed to them." 

What Does Weed and Feed Mean?

To understand both the provincial ban and the newer federal move, it's essential to better understand the product. A weed-and-feed product is a combined herbicide and fertilizer in one product that is supposed to kill weeds and feed the grass at the same time. However, the timing of fertilizer applications (starting early in the season) generally does not coincide with the timing of killing weeds (usually later in the season after they have appeared). Also, broadleaf weed killers like the powerful 2,4-D end up being applied, or "broadcast," to the entire lawn, even to areas where it's unnecessary. Fertilizers and herbicides are two very different products, and combining them makes little sense.

Who Does the Federal Ban Affect?

The 2010 federal ban covers all "fine turf," which applies to all residential, commercial, and recreational turf, such as golf courses, which are usually exempt from pesticide laws. It does not apply to agricultural uses of fertilizer-pesticide combination products (turf farms) or products that have a single active material with both fertilizer and pesticidal properties. 

The federal ban avoids the lightning rod of health risks, instead of reasoning that weed-and-feed products "do not support the goals of best practices for pest management in turf." 

The Crux of the Federal Feed-and-Weed Ban

On the timing issue, the federal regulation has this to say:

"Pesticides should only be used when and where there is a need. Broadcast applications of pesticides over the whole area are warranted only for severe pest infestations that are widespread. As pest infestations are typically patchy, spot applications of pesticides to those areas are most often sufficient to ensure adequate control in turf.
"To be effective, fertilizers and pesticides must each be applied at the appropriate timings, which typically do not coincide. Fertilizers are most often applied in spring or early summer, and/or in late summer or fall....
"These products are unsuitable as a delivery mechanism because they support broadcast application of the pesticide when this might not be warranted. Ultimately, fertilizer and pesticide applications should be based on need. Fertilizer should only be used if the turf will benefit from additional nutrients, and pesticides should only be used as a broadcast treatment if the pest densities are sufficiently high across the area to be treated. Targeted, well-timed liquid formulations of pesticides minimize pesticide use on the lawn and turf sites."

In Canada, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) regulates pesticides under the Pest Control Products Act, including those intended for lawn and turf uses. Fertilizer-pesticide combination products are regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency under the Fertilizers Act. 

Commentators have called the weed-and-feed solution a perfect example of lawn care companies marketing a bad product. With the lure of convenience and the assurance of clever marketing, the consumer uses weed-and-feed products, which are not agronomically sound.

Read the Federal Ban; Consider Your Options

Read the full text of the federal ban for yourself.

Meanwhile, if you are examining options that avoid chemicals, you may want to read more about organic weed control.