Highlights from a Typical Fertilizer Ordinance

Below is a link to a State Model Fertilizer Ordinance. Keep in mind that this document is the minimum standards that must be instigated by every county in the state. Each county has the option to accept the ordinance as is, or to modify it as long as the minimum standards are all implemented.

Fertilizer Landscape Guidance Models

To find out exactly what your county has endorsed, I recommend that you Google your county's approved fertilizer ordinance.

I will highlight (or lowlight) how this ordinance affects your golf course. Regrettably, many of the recent state ordinances don't exempt golf courses. However, I have read a few ordinances from individual counties that do give golf courses an exemption if they can prove a need through either soil or tissue testing.

The ordinance below is from the State of Florida but is quite similar in many states.

Purpose of the Ordinance

The Model Fertilizer Use Ordinance is another tool to reduce sources of nutrients coming from urban landscapes to reduce the impact of nutrients on Florida's surface and ground waters. Limiting the amount of fertilizer applied to the landscape will reduce the risk of nutrient enrichment of surface and ground waters, but effective nutrient management requires more comprehensive control measures. Such a comprehensive approach is needed that may include, but is not limited to, land planning and low-impact development, site plan design, landscape design, irrigation system design and maintenance, fertilizer application, landscape maintenance, and waste disposal. To assist local governments in improving their existing land development regulations, several "model" ordinances have been developed.

This Ordinance regulates the proper use of fertilizers by any applicator; requires proper training of Commercial and Institutional Fertilizer Applicators (Golf Courses); establishes training and licensing requirements; establishes a Prohibited Application Period; specifies allowable fertilizer application rates and methods, fertilizer-free zones, low maintenance zones, and exemptions. The Ordinance requires the use of Best Management Practices which provide specific management guidelines to minimize negative secondary and cumulative environmental effects associated with the misuse of fertilizers. Regulation of nutrients, including both phosphorus and nitrogen contained in fertilizer, will help improve and maintain water and habitat quality.


Institutional Applicator: Means any person, other than a private, non-commercial or a Commercial Applicator (unless such definitions also apply under the circumstances), that applies fertilizer for the purpose of maintaining turf and/or landscape plants. Institutional Applicators shall include, but shall not be limited to, owners, managers or employees of public lands, golf courses, schools, parks, religious institutions, utilities, industrial or business sites and any residential properties maintained in condominium and/or common ownership.

Prohibited Application Period: Means the time period during which a Flood Watch or Warning, or a Tropical Storm Watch or Warning, or a Hurricane Watch or Warning is in effect for any portion of area issued by the National Weather Service, or if heavy rain is likely. Several Counties have distinguished June 1st through September 30th as a prohibited application period. Check your county ordinance.

Approved Best Management Practices Training Program: Means a training program approved by the county or any more stringent requirements set forth in this Article that includes the most current version of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's "Florida-friendly Best Management Practices for Protection of Water Resources by the Green Industries, 2008," as revised, and approved by the County Administrator. For Golf Courses: "Best Management Practices for the Enhancement of Environmental Quality on Florida Golf Courses".


No applicator shall apply fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorus to turf and/or landscape plants during the Prohibited Application Period, or to saturated soils.


Fertilizer shall not be applied within ten feet of any pond, stream, watercourse, lake, canal, or wetland as defined by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, unless a deflector shield, drop spreader, or liquid applicator with a visible and sharply defined edge, is used, in which case a minimum of 3 feet shall be maintained. Newly planted turf and/or landscape plants may be fertilized in this Zone only for a sixty day period beginning 30 days after planting if need to allow the plants to become well established. Caution shall be used to prevent direct deposition of nutrients into the water.


  1. Spreader deflector shields are required when fertilizing via rotary (broadcast) spreaders. Deflectors must be positioned such that fertilizer granules are deflected away from all impervious surfaces, fertilizer-free zones and water bodies, including wetlands.
  2. Fertilizer shall not be applied, spilled, or otherwise deposited on any impervious surfaces.
  3. Any fertilizer applied, spilled, or deposited, either intentionally or accidentally, on any impervious surface shall be immediately and completely removed to the greatest extent practicable.
  4. Fertilizer released on an impervious surface must be immediately contained and either legally applied to turf or any other legal site, or returned to the original or other appropriate container.
  5. In no case shall fertilizer be washed, swept, or blown off impervious surfaces into stormwater drains, ditches, conveyances, or water bodies.


In no case shall grass clippings, vegetative material, and/or vegetative debris be washed, swept, or blown off into stormwater drains, ditches, conveyances, water bodies, wetlands, or sidewalks or roadways. Any material that is accidentally so deposited shall be immediately removed to the maximum extent practicable.


The provisions set forth above in this Ordinance shall not apply to:

  1. Bona fide farm operations as defined in the Florida Right to Farm Act, Section 823.14 Florida Statutes.
  2. Other properties not subject to or covered under the Florida Right to Farm Act that have pastures used for grazing livestock.
  3. Any lands used for bona fide scientific research, including, but not limited to, research on the effects of fertilizer use on urban stormwater, water quality, agronomics, or horticulture.


  1. For damaged turf or plants for a period of sixty days and only on the damaged area, nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizer may be provide based on laboratory recommendations, subsequent to soil or tissue deficiency being verified by and approved testAreas where soil or tissue tests confirm, and such tests are confirmed and approved by the county that phosphorus levels are below ten PPM.
  2. Yard waste compost, mulches or other similar materials that are primarily organic in nature and are applied to improve the physical condition of the soil.
  3. Reclaimed or IQ water used for irrigation, which may contain substantial amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus.
  4. Institutional applicators (Golf Courses) in accordance with "Best Management Practices for the Enhancement of Environmental Quality on Florida Golf Courses". Institutional applicators shall maintain documentation (Soil Test, or Tissue Test) to support said exemptions. If applying fertilizer in accordance with "Best Management Practices for the Enhancement of Environmental Quality on Florida Golf Courses" must possess a record of the soil test indicating the amount of phosphorus present. Records will be made available for inspection by county staff during business hours.
  5. Institutional applicators shall permit the county to obtain a sample of any fertilizer applied or to be applied within the county. If the sample analysis shows the nitrogen or phosphorus content does not comply with the levels permitted by State standards, enforcement action may be taken, and the cost of the analyzing fertilizer samples taken be reimbursed by the business within thirty days after invoicing.


All commercial and institutional applicators of fertilizer within the incorporated area shall abide by and successfully complete the six-hour training program in the "Florida-friendly Best Management Practices for Protection of Water Resources by the Green Industries" offered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection through the University of Florida Extension "Florida-Friendly Landscapes" program, or an approved equivalent.

After 31 December, 2013, all commercial applicators of fertilizer within the incorporated area, shall have and carry in their possession at all times when applying fertilizer, evidence of certification by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a Commercial Fertilizer Applicator.

All businesses applying fertilizer to turf and/or landscape plants (including but not limited to residential lawns, golf courses, commercial properties, and multi-family and condominium properties) must ensure that at least one employee has a "Florida-friendly Best Management Practices for Protection of Water Resources by the Green Industries" training certificate prior to the business owner obtaining a Local Business Tax Certificate. Owners for any category of occupation which may apply any fertilizer to Turf and/or Landscape Plants shall provide proof of completion of the program to the Tax Collector's Office.

Funds generated by penalties imposed under this section shall be used by for the administration and enforcement of section 403.9337, Florida Statutes, and the corresponding sections of this ordinance, and to further water conservation and nonpoint pollution prevention activities.