4.3 Strengthen local fertilizer ordinances and improve compliance

Key Message: Sarasota County was among the first in the state to enact local restrictions on fertilizer use to protect water quality. The ordinance could be substantially strengthened by additional provisions to require point-of-sale educational signage on proper fertilizer use to promote greater awareness and compliance.


Sarasota County’s 2007 adoption of the Urban Fertilizer Ordinance placed it at the forefront of statewide efforts to promote responsible fertilizer practices to protect water quality. Though the Sarasota County Stormwater Environmental Utility and its partners provide significant educational outreach, ordinance messaging is countered by the widespread availability of non-compliant products during the summer rainy season ban on use, contradictory information provided to consumers by retailers and manufacturers, and lack of any meaningful enforcement. Twelve years after the original adoption, we recognize the need to strengthen the ordinance, prioritize appropriate levels of enforcement, and increase public awareness.

Compliance rates for homeowners who fertilize their own yards has not been quantified but is suspected to be low. Fertilizer is applied with little or no awareness of the need to offset for the natural availability of phosphorus in the region’s soils, or the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus contained in reclaimed irrigation water commonly served to many newer developments. Activating private citizens to keep excess nitrogen out of our waterways through responsible fertilizer use is more cost-effective than removing it once it reaches waterways, or mitigating the growing environmental, social, and economic impacts of poor water quality and harmful algal blooms.


In 2007, unincorporated Sarasota County, the Town of Longboat Key, and the incorporated Cities of Sarasota, Venice, and North Port became the first in Florida to adopt comprehensive urban fertilizer ordinances, including a rainy season ban. Since then, 13 Florida counties and nearly 90 municipalities have enacted urban fertilizer ordinances with summer bans. The rainy season ban was recommended as part of a model ordinance developed by Tampa Bay Estuary Program stakeholders. It was based on research showing that heavy rainfall events during summer months are unpredictable (occurring on average every 1.7 days), and the likelihood of leaching and fertilizer runoff is greater with heavy rainfall (Harper 2014). The University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) disputes the efficacy of summer fertilizer bans, based on research conducted nationwide showing that summer is when turfgrass is most active in taking up nutrients, with negligible loss of nutrients in healthy lawns (Hochmuth et al., 2012). This claim has not been rigorously evaluated in Sarasota County neighborhoods, including what proportion of lawns would qualify as being “healthy.” UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County instructs residents of Sarasota County to follow the county fertilizer ordinance.

In 2007, unincorporated Sarasota County, the Town of Longboat Kay, and the incorporated Cities of Sarasota, Venice and North Port adopted ordinances to regulate the use of fertilizer, including the following common provisions:

  • Blackout Period – prohibits use of fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus on turf or landscape plants between June 1 and September 30. However, the City of North Port does allow application to landscape plants.
  • Nitrogen application – requires fertilizer to contain at least 50% slow release nitrogen outside the blackout period, with a maximum application of 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year.
  • Phosphorus application – limits phosphorus fertilizer applications to 0.25 and 0.50 pounds per 1,000 square feet per application and per year, respectively.
  • Fertilizer Free Zone – requires a minimum 10 ft. no-fertilizer zone adjacent to water bodies and wetlands.
  • Grass Clippings – prohibits grass clippings and other vegetative debris from being washed or blown into stormwater drains, water bodies, and wetlands.
  • Applicator Training and Certification – requires all commercial and institutional applicators to receive training and certification in the Green Industry-Best Management Practices.
  • Enforcement – provides for ability to enforce fertilizer regulations.
  • Exemptions – golf courses required to meet FDEP’s “BMPs for the Enhancement of Environmental Quality on Florida Golf Courses, January 2007” and agricultural operations are exempt from the fertilizer ordinances.

Statewide urban fertilizer legislation adopted in 2009 mandated that, at a minimum, local ordinances follow FDEP’s “Model Ordinance for Florida-Friendly Fertilizer Use on Urban Landscapes,” which is less restrictive and prohibits application only when more than two inches of rain is expected. More stringent local ordinances may be adopted with additional documentation to and input from UF/IFAS and FDACS. Golf courses and farms are exempt from urban fertilizer ordinances (see Chapters 4.5 and 4.6).

The effectiveness of Sarasota County’s ordinance is diminished by the fact that retailers are free to sell non-compliant fertilizers during the summer while providing no notice to the consumer that use of the product during that time is a violation of the law. Some retailers even post signage informing customers that summer is the best time to fertilize. Enforcement of the local ordinance occurs only in response to citizen reports of non-compliance, so in effect the ordinance is voluntary — for those who even know about it. Twelve years after adoption, the voluntary nature of the fertilizer ordinance has failed to inspire compliance at a scale necessary to reduce fertilizer runoff into waterways.

Retailers stock and sell fertilizer formulas that do not comply with Sarasota County’s  fertilizer ordinance. Source: Iakov Filimonov

Anticipating this reality, Pinellas County and its incorporated cities of Gulfport and St. Petersburg adopted comprehensive ordinances in 2010 that included a summer ban on both use and sales of lawn fertilizers. The City of Tampa followed suit in 2011. To prevent other Florida communities from following their lead, Florida enacted F.S. 576.181 in 2013, granting FDACS the exclusive authority to regulate the sale, composition, formulation, packaging, labeling, and distribution of fertilizer (see Chapter 4.2). This law explicitly preempted local governments from enacting sales bans, although those in effect as of 2011 were grandfathered in.

Absent a sales ban, education at the point-of-sale is critically important to make consumers aware of local ordinances and the difference between compliant and non-compliant products. Summer-safe fertilizer products containing no nitrogen or phosphorus can be promoted as alternative lawn treatments during the restricted use period.


The Sarasota County community can reduce nutrient loading from summer fertilizer runoff by providing increased outreach and education to residents, working collaboratively with retailers, and improving local and state laws.

Seeking voluntary assistance from local fertilizer retailers to add educational signage on shelving and to stock only ordinance-compliant products is a first step in improving public awareness of lawful fertilizer practices. In the short-term, Sarasota County Government and municipalities can improve compliance with the existing Sarasota County Urban Fertilizer Ordinance by issuing a Proclamation or a Resolution restating the importance of BMPs for fertilizer and asking fertilizer retailers to voluntarily display educational signage and to sell only ordinance-compliant products throughout the year. As incentive, the county could promote cooperating companies, including compliant commercial fertilizer applicators.

Mandating educational point-of-sale signage for fertilizer products might improve compliance rates more than voluntary means alone. Sarasota County Government and municipalities could amend their fertilizer ordinances to require point-of-sale educational signs for all retail sales, similar to provisions adopted by Brevard County, Alachua County, and City of Bonita Springs. The County could provide the signs.

Brevard County requires fertilizer retailers to display educational signage. Source: Keep Brevard Beautiful

Local regulation of lawn fertilizer sales could enable communities to fine-tune their nutrient management approach by allowing only fertilizer formulations that suit local conditions. For example, soils in Sarasota County are naturally rich in phosphorus. Using fertilizer containing phosphorus is unnecessary and adds to phosphorus loading.

To regulate fertilizer sales locally, Florida would need to repeal or amend the state law (F.S. 576.181) forbidding such activity. Consensus on a repeal or amendment of F.S. 576.181 could be proposed and championed by the Florida League of Cities and/or Association of Counties. Sarasota County Government, as the first to adopt a comprehensive fertilizer ordinance in the state, could continue its leading role in this issue by advocating for the bill. After removing state preemption, local urban fertilizer ordinances can be amended to regulate retail fertilizer sales periods, formulation, and nutrient content. Scientists should be involved in evaluating proposed amendments.



No Activity

Performance Measure

  • Option 1 – educational signage affixed to shelving at all fertilizer retailers (voluntary with BOCC Resolution).
  • Option 2 – educational signage affixed to shelving at all fertilizer retailers (mandatory under amended local urban fertilizer ordinance).
  • Option 3 – repealed or amended F.S. 576.181 followed by improved local regulation of fertilizer sales under amended local urban fertilizer ordinances.

Experts or Leads

Cris Costello, Sierra Club to consult on statewide strategy; UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, Science and Environment Council to develop and distribute signage

Cost Estimate

$10,000 – $50,000

Related Activities

Chapter 4.2, Chapter 4.5, Chapter 4.6



Other Fertilizer & Soil Activities

4.1 Estimate nutrient loading from fertilizer

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4.2 Reinstate public reporting on fertilizer distribution by FDACS

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4.4 Deliver targeted education and resources to HOAs

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4.6 Deliver targeted education and resources to farmers and ranchers

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