Department of Environmental Protection

On January 5, 2011, Governor Chris Christie signed into law one of the most restrictive fertilizer content standards in the nation for nitrogen and phosphorus. The law is being implemented in three phases.

Phase I went into effect when the law was signed and requires the use of best management practices to reduce the impacts of fertilizers on waterways, and public education regarding correct fertilizer use. Phase II initiated the creation of a certification program for professional fertilizer applicators and lawn care providers. Phase III requires manufacturers to reformulate fertilizers.

Why are these efforts important? Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients required for plant growth. A limited amount of these nutrients is important for healthy plant life. An overabundance, however, not only can harm lawns but when washed into waterways stimulates excessive algae and weed growth. This in turn, depletes oxygen from the water and reduces the sunlight needed for healthy aquatic life.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection would like to thank the members of the Healthy Lawns Healthy Waters Workgroup and the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University for their continued cooperation, guidance and support.

Annual Announcement: Blackout Dates for Fertilizer Use

Fertilizer is best applied when turf needs plant food and is actively growing. Blackout dates are the days that fertilizer cannot be applied. The reason for this is because the risk of fertilizer runoff or leachate into ground water is more likely when the ground is frozen.

Homeowners: You cannot apply fertilizer after November 15 and before March 1 in any calendar year.

Commercial Fertilizer Applicators: You must complete your customer service cycle of late fall nitrogen or phosphorus fertilization by December 1 and then fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus cannot be applied again until March 1. All other materials, such as products containing potassium, lime and composts, are still legal to apply during the blackout dates.

DEP Press Release (4/19/13)


Phase III: Fertilizer Content Standards

New Jersey’s fertilizer law serves to decrease the total amount of nitrogen in fertilizer and increase the amount of slow release nitrogen to 20 percent.

Effective January 5, 2013, all fertilizer products sold in New Jersey for turf must contain at least 20 percent slow-release nitrogen and zero percent phosphorus unless a soil test demonstrates a need for phosphorus to be added.

Phase II: NJ Fertilizer Applicator Certification Program

As of January 5, 2012, all professional fertilizer applicators and lawn care providers are required to undergo training and become certified through the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University. As of July, 2012, over 3,000 applicators have registered with this program. Of these, over 1,500 professionals have been tested and are certified, and over 700 staff and seasonal employees have been trained by a certified professional.

The fees to become certified or trained are as follows:

Certified Fertilizer Applicator:
$75 fee for the first year (training and testing)
$25 annual fee for the subsequent three years

Trained Fertilizer Applicator:
$25 annual fee

To learn more, go to the Professional Fertilizer Applicator Certification and Training website.

Phase I: Public Education and Best Management Practices

Beginning in February, 2011, several public education resources were developed or gathered that addressed fertilizer information and preferred fertilizer practices. These resources can be found in the gray box on the left side of this website.

Enforcement of the NJ Fertilizer Law

Phase Two of the state’s fertilizer law is now in effect and it requires all lawn care professionals who apply fertilizer to be certified (see Phase II). Enforcement of this law is the responsibility of municipalities, counties, local soil conservation districts and the local health departments. As a result, any of these parties may receive reports from citizens, community groups or companies regarding fertilizer applicators that are operating without proper certification. You are encouraged to investigate how to enforce this new law.

Below are excerpts from the law which directs enforcement authority to the local governments:
(Source: New Jersey Act, P.L. 2010, c. 112 (C.58:10A-64)

Specific aspects of penalties and enforcement in this law include:
This law may be enforced by any municipality, county, local soil conservation district or local health agency. A local soil conservation district may institute a civil action for injunctive relief in Superior Court to enforce this law and to prohibit and prevent a violation of this law and the court may proceed in the action in a summary manner.
Any professional fertilizer applicator who violates the New Jersey Fertilizer Law is subject to a civil penalty of $500 for the first offense and up to $1,000 for the second and each subsequent offense, to be collected in a civil action by a summary proceeding under the “Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999,” P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.).
If the violation is of a continuing nature, each day during which it continues shall constitute an additional, separate and distinct offense. The Superior Court and the municipal court shall have jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the “Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999”.
Please note that the law preempts local governments from making additional rules and regulations about fertilizer for turf (except for penalties for non-professionals/homeowners).
The provisions of the law preempt any ordinance or resolution of a municipality, county or local health agency concerning the application of fertilizer to turf, except that municipalities are allowed to establish penalties for persons other than a professional fertilizer applicator or person who sells retail fertilizer.
Any person, other than a professional fertilizer applicator or person who sells fertilizer at retail, who violates this act, or any rule or regulation adopted pursuant thereto, may be subject to a penalty, as established by municipal ordinance, to be collected in a civil action by a summary proceeding under the “Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999,” P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.). The municipal court shall have jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the “Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999”.

Healthy Lawns Healthy Water Workgroup

The Healthy Lawns Healthy Water workgroup was originally formed to address strategies to reduce phosphorus loads from fertilizer runoff to the state’s waterways. In 2009, the Healthy Lawns Healthy Water workgroup received the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award for working collaboratively with the state and voluntarily reducing the content of phosphorus in fertilizer by 50%. This reduction resulted in a total annual phosphorus reduction of 171,770 pounds between the base year of 2006 and 2008. The Healthy Lawns Healthy Water workgroup continues to work with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to implement the components of this law.

Workgroup members include:

John Buechner, Lawn Doctor
Willie DeCamp, Save Barnegat Bay
Dave Ertle, Ocean County Utility Authority
Brian R. Feldman, TruGreen
Stan Hales, Barnegat Bay Partnership
Helen Henderson, American Littoral Society
Bill Kelso, Lebanon Seaboard
Ken Klipstein, NJ Water Supply Authority
Todd Pretz, Jonathan Green
Dr. James Murphy, Rutgers University
Dr. Stephanie Murphy, Rutgers University
Nancy Sadlon, Green Industry Council
Dr. Heather Saffert, Clean Ocean Action
Amy Weaver, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association
Chris Wible, Scott’s Miracle Gro Company

For Additional Information:

Kerry Kirk Pflugh
NJDEP Office of Communications
P: 609-633-7242
F: 609-984-3962

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