By Jane Morse, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension
June 1 is the beginning of the summertime fertilizer blackout. During this time you cannot apply any fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorus to your lawn or landscape until October. The County’s strict fertilizer ordinance – aimed at improving water quality - prohibits using these products from June 1 through Sept. 30 or at any time of year the National Weather Service forecasts heavy rains to occur within 24 hours.
During the time of year when you are allowed to fertilize, you still must keep in mind that no more than four pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year can be applied, and that granular fertilizers containing nitrogen must be at least 50 percent slow release nitrogen. Also that phosphorus is not allowed unless a soil test documents a phosphorus deficiency.
Knowing what’s in the fertilizer can help you decide what is best for your lawn and how to apply it correctly. You can check out the three numbers on a fertilizer bag to learn the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium it contains. (The rest is filler that allows uniform application of the nutrients and helps prevent over-or-under fertilizing of certain areas.)
There are other fertilizer “rules” for protecting the environment as well as public health: Use a deflector shield when applying. Don’t apply within 10 feet of a wetland or water body. Fertilizer or grass clippings that get on sidewalks, driveways, streets, etc. must be returned to the landscape areas or swept up immediately. Nitrogen should not be applied to any newly-installed plants for the first 30 days. If you use reclaimed water you may not need any extra nitrogen fertilizer because the reclaimed water contains nitrogen.
Pinellas County’s fertilizer ordinance also requires all lawn and landscape personnel to pass a best management practices class. You should hire only those who display the decal and carry a certification card.
We all want clean water. An important way to protect water quality is to make sure nothing but pure water flows into storm drains. Our storm drains are a direct conduit to our creeks, lakes and marine waters and aren’t treated in any way. All hard surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and streets drain to storm drains so it is very important to keep these areas clean.
Some easy things we can do to keep our water clean are to keep all grass clippings, leaves, fertilizer, household or vehicle chemicals or anything that isn’t plain water from going down the storm drain. Sweep grass clippings back into the landscape or put them into a compost bin. Use leaves as mulch in plant beds, compost them, or put them in the trash. Keep all chemicals in a secondary container so if the original container springs a leak the secondary one will catch it and keep the leak contained. (One quart of oil creates an oil slick the size of two football fields!) Pick up pet waste and dispose of it in the trash. Wash vehicles over grass or gravel to prevent runoff. Never drain chlorinated water to the street or storm drain. Reclaimed water contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus so make sure it isn’t spraying onto any hard surfaces or draining off your property into the street.
Always remember - nothing but rain down the drain.
For any questions on disposal of waste, including fertilizer, pesticides and weed control products, contact the Pinellas County Department of Solid Waste Operations at (727) 464-7500.
For information or to report illegal dumping, you can reach the Pinellas County Watershed Management Division at (727) 464-4425 ext.5 or firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a 24-hour hotline at (727) 464-5060 (non-emergency spills only). Emergencies: Please call your local fire department.
The information for this article came from the Division’s brochure entitled “A Guide to the Fertilizer Ordinance.” All regulatory questions should be directed to the Watershed Division at (727) 464-4425.