By Amber Crooks, Senior Natural Resources Specialist, Conservancy of Southwest Florida
With the approval of a fertilizer ordinance in the City of Marco Island this past March, ordinances are now in place all the way up the coast to Sarasota and beyond. In fact, over 90 Florida municipalities have adopted fertilizer rules since 2008.
Why have so many cities and counties across Florida placed such importance on the proper application of fertilizers? Fertilizer products containing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous can contribute to polluted water.
Once applied to your lawn, these nutrients may make their way through the soil or in stormwater runoff to our waters. In canals, lakes, and bays, these nutrients work much as they do on land: promoting growth. Nutrients, such as those found in fertilizers, can lend to the development and severity of algae blooms. Harmful blooms can be toxic to people, pets, and aquatic life. Algae blooms can also deplete dissolved oxygen in the water and result in fish kills.
Given the precarious state of many of our waterways, care in applying fertilizer can prevent pollution at its source. Strictly adhering to your municipality’s fertilizer ordinance is one way citizens can be good stewards of our most precious resource.
Once nutrients are in the environment, they can be extremely costly to remediate (estimates show that removal can cost $10 to $300 per pound of nitrogen). Truly an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Since rain can be expected frequently during Florida’s rainy season, many municipalities have banned the application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous altogether between June 1st and September 30th.
Professionals, as well as homeowners, are expected to comply with these practices. Be sure to review the instructions on your fertilizer product label and your local government rules before applying fertilizer.
For more information see www.conservancy.org/our-work/policy/water-quality/fertilizer-ordinance and www.dontfeedthemonster.info/.
Most local ordinances have adopted the following practices to protect our water quality:
Do not apply fertilizer within 10 feet of the water. This buffer helps to prevent fertilizer from running off or being inadvertently applied directly to the water. Planting native plants that don’t require a lot of maintenance can also help keep this buffer free from fertilizers and other chemicals.
Use a deflector shield on your spreader. This also helps in minimizing the application of fertilizer granules outside of the targeted area.
Choose your product wisely. Look for fertilizers that contain at least 50% slow release nitrogen and zero phosphorus. The label and “Guaranteed Analysis” table on the bag should indicate the content of your product.
Before applying, conduct a soil test to determine if there is a deficiency. Most lawns do not need additional phosphorous, however such a test, run through local IFAS Extensions, can help you make the call. If needed, apply only the amount allowed under the local ordinance.
Limit the total nitrogen you apply on your lawn. Most ordinances limit to 4 lbs. of nitrogen per year, and may also stipulate how much can be applied in one session.
If fertilizer products are spilled, sweep up and put back in the bag. Do not allow the fertilizer to enter the storm system or settle on impervious surfaces such as driveways. Fertilizer that is not cleaned up will often end up in our waterways.
Do not allow grass clippings or other vegetation to enter the storm system or be disposed of in the waterway. This matter naturally contains a lot of nutrients.
Do not apply fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous when a heavy rain is expected.