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#3: Fertilize Appropriately

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Click here for Florida-Friendly Landscaping Principle 3

Plants, animals and people depend on clean water for survival. When too much fertilizer is applied to landscapes, it seeps past the root zone of the grass, plants or trees and into the aquifer, or it runs off into our canals, lakes and rivers. Avoid weed-and-seed products, use slow-release fertilizers, and fertilize lawns, trees and plants only to maintain health. Fertilizer will not help poor growth caused by poor plant placement, disease or pests. 

Furthermore, while these chemicals may kill pests and weeds, they also poison fish and beneficial insects, and harm animals up the food chain that eat them. Fertilizers can actually help non-native plants grow and take over habitats. 

Fertilizing in Fort Lauderdale

Sandy South Florida soils allow nutrients to drain away from root systems quickly, so fertilizing can be a routine part of lawn care if done responsibly. While many plants and grasses can thrive without fertilizer, there are times when you will want to or need to fertilize. It is important to know when and how often to fertilize, as well as what type of fertilizer to use.

Look for the 15-0-5 LabelA good general purpose landscape fertilizer is phosphorous-free and contains only 15 percent of both nitrogen and potassium. This will be printed on the fertilizer bag’s label as 15-0-15. The fertilizer should contain micronutrients, and one with 7.5 percent slow-release nitrogen is recommended. If phosphorous is necessary for lawn maintenance, the fertilizer should contain 0.2 percent or less as Fort Lauderdale soil is naturally high in phosphorus.

When necessary based on plant condition, fertilizer application is recommended twice per year, once in spring and again in the fall. It should be applied at a rate of no more than one pound per thousand square feet.

A good rule of thumb when applying fertilizer is “less is best” to protect the environment. Excess fertilizer runs off yards and into nearby canals, coastal areas and the Everglades. Special attention should be given to avoid over fertilizing as it creates nutrient rich runoff that can lead to uncontrolled growth of aquatic weeds, algae, and invasive plants. Aquatic weed control is a great concern to water control and drainage districts because it is their single greatest expense.

Even if fertilizer is applied at proper rates, too much water following fertilizing can result in leaching or runoff. Just ¼ inch of water is all that is needed for fertilizer to seep into the lawn. It is especially important to avoid fertilizing just before a heavy rainfall.

Look for Alternatives to Traditional Products

There are alternatives to using traditional insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizer that are effective and less harmful to the environment.  Many products are now being introduced to meet the demands of gardeners who prefer to use less toxic chemicals on their plants.  Read labels carefully and consult with your nursery or home improvement store representative for advice. An alternative to using fertilizer is composting, which can improve soil fertility. 

Whatever method you choose, please remember that fertilizing your lawn is a choice, not a necessity. Following proper lawn care and fertilizing guidelines can result in a healthy, aesthetically pleasing lawn with minimal or no impact to the environment.

Using Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fertilizers with Care

Fertilizer HHW ButtonYou can avoid polluting the environment by following these tips and suggestions:

  • Use organic, biodegradable, non-toxic pesticides and fertilizers that are low to no phosphorus. 
  • Only treat problem areas.
  • Carefully follow manufacturer's directions. Apply only the recommended amounts and avoid applying if rain or wind is forecasted.
  • Mix and load fertilizers or pesticides on grassy or dirt areas, not on driveways or paved surfaces, and never near the water's edge.
  • Apply only ¼ inch of water to soak lawn chemicals into the ground. Avoid over watering. It washes excess lawn and garden chemicals away.
  • Sweep up excess amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Never hose them into storm drains.
  • Never dump lawn, garden or any other products down a storm drain. It is a crime and could result in fines.
  • Dispose of lawn and garden chemicals at a Household Hazardous Waste Drop-off event.
  • Store left over fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other hazardous chemicals dry, covered area to protect containers from deterioration resulting from exposure. Storing them outside could results in the product leaking out and being washed into a storm drain during rains or when you water your garden.

Plant natives.

Plant native plants to reduce the need for water, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. This is the simplest approach to avoiding runoff. It helps you avoid the use of chemicals altogether. If you do encounter pests on your plants, consider an Integrated Pest Management approach.

Cut down on grass.

Many lawn chemicals are used to keep grass looking green and healthy. Other ground covers do not require as much. Consider reducing the amount of grass you have and substituting other native low-growing plants and mulched plant beds. You will reduce the time and costs of caring for your grass, and you will reduce the amount of chemicals and clippings that go down our storm drains.

More Information 

For more information on fertilizing your lawn properly and other landscaping information, visit UF/IFAS Extension: Florida-Friendly Landscaping: The Smart Way to Grow.  Look on the right side of the webpage to access information on Principle #3 Fertilize Appropriately.

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