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Fertilizers

A healthy lawn can help prevent erosion, filter pollution, recharge groundwater, and cool our environment.  Fertilizers are often used to provide nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) to growing grass and maintain a healthy lawn, but if fertilizers are to be used, they should be applied in a manner that properly protects our waterways. 

Stormwater runoff and groundwater leaching can carry excess fertilizer into our waterways and eventually into the Barnegat Bay.  Once there, the nutrients in fertilizer support the excessive growth of phytoplankton and algae in the bay.  This process is called euthrophication, which is an increase in the rate of supply of organic matter into an ecosystem.  Eutrophication can negatively impact the bay ecosystem in many ways, such as by creating low dissolved oxygen conditions, making the water more turbid, leading to declines in seagrass, and changing the types of animals and plants that inhabit the bay.

As part of an effort to curb the potentially harmful effects associated with incorrect fertilization practices, the New Jersey legislature passed The New Jersey Fertilizer Law (A2290), which was signed into law on January 5, 2011.  This law establishes statewide fertilizer standards for when and where lawn fertilizer can be applied, the amount of nitrogen that can be used for each application and for the year, and fertilizer content. The law is integral to Action # 7 (reduce nutrient pollution from fertilizer) in the Governor's Action Plan for Barnegat Bay. 

For an overview of the law and tips about growing a healthy lawn while reducing the amount of nitrogen carried into our waterways and the bay, watch the BBP's video, Bay-Friendly Lawns, on the BBP's YouTube channel. 

consumer use of lawn fertilizers:  nj fertilizer law highlights

when not to apply
  • Between November 15 and March 1.
  • When the ground is frozen or saturated.
  • Just before, or during, a heavy rain.
where not to apply
  • To impervious surfaces, such as driveways or sidewalks. (Sweep up or blow back any fertilizer that inadvertently lands on impervious surfaces.)
  • Within 25 feet of a water body. (Protective buffer can be reduced to 10 feet if certain equipment, such as a drop spreader, is used.)
what fertilizer content
  • Use fertilizers containing at least 20% slow-release nitrogen. (Slow-release nitrogen is a form of nitrogen released over time and is not water soluble.)
  • Do not use fertilizers containing phosphorus, with certain exceptions.  (Use of phosphorus is permitted in certain cases, such as when a soil test indicates a need or when establishing a new lawn.)   
how much nitrogen
  • For each application, do not apply more than 0.9 pounds of nitrogen for every 1000 square feet of lawn area. (No more than 0.7 of the 0.9 pounds can be water soluble nitrogen.)
  • For each year, do not apply more than a total of 3.2 pounds of nitrogen for every 1000 square feet of lawn area.

Try Rutgers' easy-to-use Fertilizer Calculator to figure out the amount of your brand of fertilizer to apply to be within the nitrogen limits. As of January 5, 2013, all lawn fertilizers sold in New Jersey must meet the new content standards, and users can apply the correct amount by following the fertilizer bag's label directions for spreader settings.

tip

Get a soil test to determine the nutrient needs of your lawn. Contact your local Rutgers Cooperative Extension office for a soil testing kit. Click here for more information.

professional fertilizer applicators

As of January 5, 2012, professional fertilizer applicators must be certified (or trained and under the direct supervision of a certified applicator) in order to apply fertilizer in New Jersey. Rutgers University is administering the online training and certification program. Online training is now available at Rutgers' Professional Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training (ProFACT) website. 

The requirements for professional applicators vary somewhat from the requirements for consumers.  Professionals can apply lawn fertilizers up to December 1.  Like consumers, they should not apply lawn fertilizers again until March 1. For professionals, the amount of nitrogen applied in each application should not exceed 1.0 pound per 1000 square feet of lawn area, and the total nitrogen applied for the year should not exeed 4.25 pounds per 1000 square feet of lawn. 

If you hire a professional to fertilize your grass, make sure the applicator has been trained and certified in New Jersey, or works under the supervision of a certified fertilizer applicator (click here for a list of certified applicators).

links

For a summary of the NJ Fertilizer, see Rutgers-NJ Agricultural Experiment Station "Quick Facts".
Rutgers NJAES also has answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" about the law.

For information about New Jersey's efforts to protect our waterways from nutrient pollution, visit the Healthy Lawns Healthy Water website.

For a description of what you can do on your property to maintain a healthy lawn while protecting the environment, see this publication from Rutgers-NJAES, or visit the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Ocean County for other lawn and garden related resources.

For education and outreach materials about the NJ Fertilizer Law, including a brochure, flyer, and poster, visit the ANJEC Stormwater Management webpage.