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Reducing Impact on Our Waters

New Jersey's New Fertilizer Law
Photo: Erosion.

Water runoff from sparsely vegetated landscapes erodes soil, carrying sediments and nutrients to storm drains, eventually flushing into streams and rivers.

Initiated by local environmentalists, a series of new legislation was proposed in 2010 to protect Barnegat Bay in Ocean County. Among the legislative proposals was a bill that would place restrictions on fertilizer products and application designed to reduce nitrogen from damaging New Jersey's coastal waterways, and phosphorus from damaging fresh waterways. Essentially, nitrogen and, to a lesser extent, phosphorus are the active ingredients in lawn fertilizer that make grass green.

In January 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed what is widely viewed as the most restrictive fertilizer law (PDF) in the nation. The Fertilizer Bill impacts the entire state of New Jersey, establishes standards for certain fertilizer applications, requires certification of professional fertilizer applicators, and regulates labeling and sale of certain fertilizers.

Certifying Professional Fertilizer Applicators

One year from signing the bill into law, landscape professionals will need to show that they have been certified. A streamlined program to educate and certify commercial applicators is being developed by James Murphy, extension specialist in turf management at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, approximately 15,000 landscape professionals will need to be trained and certified to meet the law's requirements.

Photo: Runoff.

Eroded particles in water, referred to as TSS (total suspended solids), are the predominant non-point-source pollutant of stormwater flushing into streams and rivers.

Help for Homeowners

While commercial applicators are mandated to get the required training and certification under the law, homeowners also need to know that maintaining a healthy lawn does not mean an over-fertilized lawn. Rutgers has developed a Q & A to assist homeowners.

Soil testing – required by the new law when determining the need for phosphorus – is of critical importance to maximize the efficiency of fertilizer application. The Rutgers NJAES Soil Testing Lab will continue its education of homeowners as well as professionals on the relationship between a fertilizer's effectiveness and proper pH, and how their selection of the right fertilizers, such as slow release, has potential to decrease the amount of nitrogen that can escape from lawns and end up in New Jersey's waterways.

Bringing Our Waterways Back to Life

The potential of the new fertilizer law to lead to healthier waterways and aquatic communities will be a boon to fisheries in New Jersey, as excessive nitrogen, considered an important contributor to water pollution, leads to algae blooms that deprive water of oxygen and kill fish and other marine life.

To bring back a system like Barnegat Bay that is heavily impacted by nitrogen enrichment and eutrophication, it is necessary to reduce the nitrogen load to our coastal waterways, important indicators of the health of our environment.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences