University of Maryland Extension

How Does the Maryland Lawn Fertilizer Law for Turfgrass Affect You?

Stanton Gill, Extension Specialist, University of Maryland Extension
Turf area and impervious surface - driveway

Back in 2001, farm operations including nurseries and greenhouses were required to develop nutrient management plans and run soil test before applying fertilizer in field situations. Legislators felt that additional parts of the green industry needed to be involved if Maryland is to meet new nutrient reduction goals outlined in its Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to restore the Chesapeake Bay. The Lawn Fertilizer Act was developed in 2011. Maryland’s new lawn fertilizer law affects fertilizer manufacturers and distributors, lawn care professionals and homeowners. Why are turfgrass fertilizers being targeted? It is estimated that lawn fertilizer comprises 44% of fertilizer sold in Maryland and its application methods can impact the health of the Bay. 

The commercial industry had complained that homeowners were unregulated in fertilizer applications for lawns. So, in fairness, they included provisions to regulate homeowner applications to lawns. Homeowners will be regulated by local jurisdictions while applications made by commercial companies will be regulated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Homeowners will not need to be certified or keep records, but they will be required to run soil tests, apply fertilizer at rates recommended by the University of Maryland, and not apply fertilizer during winter months just like commercial applicators. Local jurisdictions are determining how they will deal with homeowner misapplications.

You need to pay attention since starting on October 1, 2013 there will be changes in how you fertilize lawns in Maryland. Lawn care professionals must be certified in order to apply fertilizer in Maryland. The rules apply to professionals for hire as well as individuals responsible for turf management at golf courses, public parks, airports, athletic fields, businesses, cemeteries and other non-agricultural properties. Licenses will be required for all businesses engaged in commercial fertilizer applications. If your company applies fertilizer to turfgrass, then at least one person per company must take and pass the MDA nutrient management test. If you wish to have multiple people certified at your company it would not be a bad idea. Someone in the company must be certified or work under the direct supervision of someone who is certified for fertilizer applications.

The manual to help you study for this test and current test dates are available online at

For the last couple of years, fertilizer manufacturer have increasingly made turfgrass fertilizer available that lack phosphorus. New phased-in restrictions affect all lawn fertilizer products sold and distributed in Maryland. The changes are aimed at helping lawn care professionals and homeowners maintain healthy lawns without applying unnecessary amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. Here are some of the highlights of requirement that must be in place by October 1, 2013:

  • Requires lawn fertilizer products sold in Maryland to include label directions to ensure that no more than 0.9 pound of total nitrogen is applied per 1,000 square feet; at least 20 percent of this nitrogen must be in a slow release form. The maximum amount of water soluble nitrogen in lawn fertilizer products applied per 1,000 square feet is capped at 0.7 pound.
  • Prohibits lawn fertilizer products from containing phosphorus with certain exceptions for specially labeled starter fertilizer and organic fertilizer products.
  • Prohibits labeling lawn fertilizer as a de-icer.
  • Requires lawn fertilizer products to contain the following statement:
  • Do not apply near water, storm drains or drainage ditches. Do not apply if heavy rain is expected. Apply this product only to your lawn and sweep any product that lands on the driveway, sidewalk, or street, back onto the turfgrass.
What will be restricted?

The idea is to get the right amount of fertilizer on the turfgrass and not on non-target sites. A lot of the restrictions are just good common sense. For cool season turfgrass the most benefit occurs from fall applications when the turfgrass is actively growing and the ground is not frozen. Be sure to keep records of applications.

  • Lawn care professionals are prohibited from applying lawn fertilizer to impervious surfaces or frozen ground.
  • No fertilizer applications within 15 feet of waterways. This setback is reduced to 10 feet if a drop spreader, rotary spreader with deflector or targeted spray liquid is used to apply the fertilizer.
  • No lawn fertilizer may be applied between December 1 and March 1. Between November 15 and December 1 only water soluble nitrogen (no slow release) may be applied to lawns at a maximum rate of ½ pound per 1,000 square feet.
  • Professionals must apply fertilizer using University of Maryland recommendations.
  • Soil tests must be taken for each new customer and once every three years thereafter.
  • A single application may not exceed 0.9 pound total nitrogen per 1,000 square feet and 0.7 pound of soluble nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, except when using enhanced efficiency fertilizer.
  • Professional applicators may continue to apply natural organic or organic products containing phosphorus, but beginning October 1, 2013, each application may not exceed 0.25 pound of phosphorus per 1,000 square feet with an annual maximum of 0.5 pound of phosphorus per 1,000 square feet. These products may not be applied when soils test at "optimum to excessive" for phosphorus levels.
  • Enhanced efficiency controlled release products may be applied at no more than 2.5 pounds per year, with a maximum monthly release rate of 0.7 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.


Violators are subject to civil penalties of up to $1,000 for the first violation and $2,000 for each subsequent violation.

Exams will start July 31, 2013 and will be given at several locations through the fall and winter. Once you take the MDA nutrient management test you will be required to attend an update session once a year to re-new your certification.

To sign up to take the MDA turfgrass nutrient management exam, contact Judy McGowan at 410-841-5955.

Article posted July 2013
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