University of Maryland Extension


Fertilizer Use Act of 2011

(PDF) Maryland's Lawn Fertilizer Law

This new law took effect October 1, 2013.

What Is the Maryland Fertilizer Law?

On May 19, 2011, Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Fertilizer Use Act of 2011, an environmental law designed to reduce the amount of nutrients washing into the Chesapeake Bay from lawns, golf courses, parks, recreation areas, and other non-agricultural sources. The law limits the amount of phosphorus contained in lawn fertilizer products sold to the public, establishes a training, certification and licensing program for people who are hired to apply fertilizer to nonagricultural landscapes, limits fertilizer amounts applied to turf, and requires the implementation of a homeowner education program about best management practices to be followed when using fertilizers.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, about 14 percent of the nitrogen and 8 percent of the phosphorus entering the Bay can be traced to non-agricultural urban and suburban sources—mainly lawns. While certain restrictions on fertilizer use and application have been in place for farmers since 2001, only limited restrictions apply to commercial lawn care applicators and no restrictions currently apply to homeowners (update- The Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 went into effect October 1, 2013 and the restrictions therein now apply to both commercial lawn care companies and homeowners in Maryland). Involving urban and suburban stakeholders in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort is essential if Maryland is to meet tough new nutrient reduction goals established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and outlined in its Watershed Implementation Plan for reducing the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of pollutants entering the Bay by 2020.

Information for Maryland Homeowners

Homeowners and do-it-yourselfers will be required to follow University of Maryland guidelines when fertilizing lawns, gardens and landscape areas. These guidelines will be promoted through a public education program that will include information on best management practices to follow when using fertilizers, soil testing information, and how to read and follow a fertilizer label. The following provisions of the law apply to homeowners and do-it-yourselfers:

  • Prohibits using lawn fertilizer on impervious surfaces.
  • Prohibits using fertilizer:
    • Between November 15 and March 1
    • When the ground is frozen
    • Within 10 to 15 feet of waterways
  • Restricts the amount of phosphorus applied to turf, with allowances when soil tests indicate low or medium phosphorus levels or when the homeowner is establishing a new lawn or repairing or reestablishing a lawn.
  • Establishes maximum application rates for total nitrogen and water soluble nitrogen.
  • Establishes maximum application rates for enhanced efficiency controlled-release products.
  • Authorizes the county, municipality or the Maryland Department of Agriculture to enforce these requirements.

The new law also stipulates new content and labeling instructions for all lawn fertilizer products sold in Maryland. There is also a new training and licensing component for professional fertilizer applicators.

Additional Resources

The Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 will be implemented in phases over two years by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the University of Maryland (UMD). The law was fully implemented by October 1, 2013.

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