Sally Scalera: Want to perk up your lawn and garden with fertilizer? Follow these rules
Sally Scalera For FLORIDA TODAY
To produce healthy plants, it may be necessary to apply fertilizer. It is also possible to fertilize incorrectly, leading to the death of a plant and harm to a pond, lake or the Indian River Lagoon.
Here are some tips to help you get the best results when fertilizing, without causing any harm to the environment.
The first step in fertilizing correctly to test your soil so you're choosing the correct fertilizer. If you haven’t tested the soil within the past two years, test it now. Our soil testing form can be found online at edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Search for "Landscape Soil Test Form," and pay for the $10 test B.
Follow the fertilizer ordinances throughout Brevard County which state:
- When applying a fertilizer with nitrogen, it must contain a minimum of 50% slow-release nitrogen and should not be applied above the maximum rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per application.
- Phosphorus can only be applied if a soil test indicates it is needed.
- When applying phosphorus, a maximum of .25 pounds per 1,000 square feet can be applied at one time, with a maximum of .5 pounds per 1,000 square feet applied per year.
- No fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus can be applied from June 1-Sept. 30.
- Do not fertilize if there is heavy rain in the forecast.
- A 10-foot-wide fertilizer-free zone, next to water bodies, must be maintained in Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Indian Harbor Beach, Malabar, Palm Bay and Satellite Beach. Residents living in unincorporated Brevard county, Melbourne and Melbourne Beach must maintain a 15-foot fertilizer-free zone along water bodies. The City of Rockledge has a fertilizer-free zone east of Rockledge Drive, and all other municipalities, not previously mentioned, must have a 25-foot fertilizer-free zone along the Indian River, Banana River and all other water bodies.
- Keep fertilizer and grass clippings off sidewalks, driveways and roads as well as out of storm drains and water bodies.
- More information on your specific area can be found here sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/brevard/lawn-and-garden/fertilizer-ordinances.
Only apply fertilizer when the grass is actively growing. Turfgrass goes dormant during winter’s short days and cooler temperatures, so don’t apply nitrogen and phosphorus in November through February. Wait until the grass needs to be mowed weekly before fertilizing it.
When fertilizing, use a broadcast spreader that has a deflector shield. The shield should be used along driveways, sidewalks and bodies of water.
After broadcasting the fertilizer, water it in lightly with ¼ inch of water to take the fertilizer, in solution, down to the root system to be absorbed. If the dissolved nitrogen is carried down past the roots, it will end up in the ground water then carried to either the Indian River Lagoon or the St. Johns River.
If your irrigation is hooked up to reclaimed water, keep in mind that reclaimed water contains both nitrogen and phosphorus, therefore you won’t need to apply fertilizer that contains those nutrients. The Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office created this Save our Indian River Lagoon website soirl-brevardbocc.hub.arcgis.com. Click on "Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan," then the number 7 tab to find out about reclaimed water.
Mature trees will receive nutrients when the lawn and shrubs around them are fertilized. Tree roots spread two to three times past the ends of the branches, so their roots will be throughout the lawn and ornamental plant beds.
A note of caution: Don’t fertilize a mature tree in the spring if there is no irrigation available to supply supplemental water in the event of a drought. The new foliage produced by the nitrogen will increase the water needs of the tree, and in the event of a drought, that could kill the tree. If the tree has not been fertilized, it may survive a drought without any supplemental irrigation.
Organic fertilizers have a larger amount of water-insoluble nitrogen plus all slow-release phosphorus (if it is in the fertilizer) and potassium. Therefore they are less likely to lead to the leaching or runoff of nutrients into water bodies when compared to synthetic fertilizers, which contain water-soluble nutrients in the form of salts. Organic fertilizers are also food for the soil microbes and won’t burn plant roots from high levels of water-soluble nitrogen.
Though one yard is a relatively small area, when every yard is added together, the total area of all the lawns becomes quite large. If every homeowner in the Indian River Lagoon watershed did their part to fertilize correctly, build a healthy soil, and minimize (or possibly eliminate) the use of synthetic pesticides, the Indian River Lagoon would be in much better shape!