We all live in a watershed—an area including homes, streets, farms and businesses that drains into our lakes, rivers or streams. When it rains, the water runs over the watershed and picks up trash, grass clippings, pet waste, excess lawn fertilizers and other things from the landscape.
Rain combined with these other materials is referred to as nonpoint source pollution or stormwater. Excess nutrients from runoff enter our waterbodies and fuel the growth of aquatic weeds and algae, which can reduce water clarity, decrease oxygen in the water and spur fish kills. When we have fish kills, we lose recreational opportunities, and surrounding property values fall.
Having both a healthy yard and healthy waterbodies is attainable. Implement these best management practices to encourage healthy plant growth and protect our waterways.
Get a soil test before you fertilize your landscape. This will help you better understand what nutrients your soil lacks. Visit the UF/IFAS Extension Soil Testing Lab website at soilslab.ifas.ufl.edu for information on submitting a soil test. If your test reflects you have high levels of some nutrients—for example, phosphorous—you would want to avoid buying fertilizer that contains that nutrient. Soil tests also indicate the level of pH, which can indicate the capacity for your plants or turf to absorb the nutrients you put down. Each plant likes a certain pH range. A soil test will indicate if you need to alter the pH or if your plants are suitable for that soil pH.
Mow your grass species to the proper height. Each species likes to be mowed to a particular height. If mowed shorter, it will be stressed. Set your mower deck to the proper height: St. Augustine, 3.5 to 4 inches; Zoysia, 1.5 to 2.5 inches; and Bahiagrass, 3 to 4 inches.
Irrigate one-half to three-quarters of an inch when your landscape needs it. Overwatering can lead to weeds, fungus, increased thatch and a decrease in drought tolerance.
Once you have taken the necessary steps to have healthy soils, turf and a well-calibrated irrigation system, you will know if you need to fertilize. Plants might show signs of yellowing or a lack of vigor, indicating they need some supplementation. If they do, follow these steps:
Read the label. All fertilizer bags have three numbers indicating the percent of nitrogen (the first number), phosphorous (the second number) and potassium (the third number).
Select a slow-release nitrogen product. Granular SRN products last throughout the growing season. When applied in April or May, they will assist your plants during the summer. The bag indicates the percent SRN. The higher, the better. They are usually compliant with local ordinances, but check the Florida Friendly Landscaping website to better understand your local laws.
Watch the phosphorous.If your soil test indicated you have high levels of phosphorous in your soils, buy a bag with a “0” as the second number. Most Florida soils are naturally high in phosphorous, so skipping it could save you money and help our waterways.
Measure your yard. Calculate the amount of fertilizer you need by measuring the square footage of your yard. For a guide, check out the fertilizer calculator on Seminole County’s website at www.fertilizeflorida.com.
By implementing these best management practices into your lawn care, you can have a healthy landscape and protect our local waterways. n
For more information on Florida-friendly landscaping, visit ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.