This is Part 1 of a two-part series about what you can do to reduce negative impacts to local waterways
Waterways can easily be polluted through the way we all approach some common behaviors — applying fertilizers and pesticides, clearing grass clippings from yards, driveways and sidewalks; driving vehicles; flushing toilets; washing laundry and chemical disposal.
The greatest threat to Florida’s waterways is indifference — the belief that someone else will fix the problems. It takes everyone’s participation to improve the health of our rivers, lakes and streams. Each of us can modify behavior to reduce or eliminate our impacts on waterways.
Nitrogen pollution comes from many sources, including from the fertilizers used on lawns and in landscaping. This nitrate-rich water makes its way to surface waters as runoff during rainfall or over-irrigation, or it may drain slowly from the soil over time, where excess nutrients cause algal blooms and undesirable weed growth.
When fertilizing, using the correct amount of fertilizer can reduce the amount of pollutants reaching waterways, save water and money, and result in a healthier landscape. Overfertilizing can aggravate pest problems, stimulate excessive plant growth, and demand frequent irrigation.
Fertilizers should be used only when specific nutrient deficiency symptoms are evident.
Florida-friendly lawns require only moderate amounts of supplemental fertilizer once they are established. Fertilizer use tips include the following:
- Apply fertilizers sparingly, if at all, and avoid overuse near the water’s edge.
- Know application factors, such as grass species and soil type and permeability. Know exactly how much area (square feet) of your lawn the bag of fertilizer is intended to cover.
- Follow the manufacturer’s directions on the bag, particularly in terms of the amount per application.
- Choose fertilizers with low or no phosphates. Florida soil is naturally high in phosphorus, so a “no phosphate” fertilizer is fine for most mature lawns. Apply a phosphate fertilizer only if lacking. For specifics to your area, contact the local County Cooperative Extension Service.
- Choose slow-release fertilizers. The best fertilizers for healthy landscapes and the environment are those that contain a high percentage of slow-release forms of nitrogen. Slow-release products stay in the soil to supply nutrients to plants on a gradual basis, over a longer period of time. The product label will say organic, slow-release or controlled release nitrogen, sulfur-coated, IBDU (15N-isobutylidene divrea), or resin-coated.
- Fertilize only during the growing season. Allow a month between autumn application and the first freezing temperatures, which will make new growth less vulnerable to frost.
Use chemicals responsibly
Like fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals can end up in our natural waterways through stormwater runoff. Use chemicals responsibly with these tips:
- Use pesticides, herbicides and fungicides only when needed.
- Follow the directions on the product’s label.
- Apply only on areas needing treatment.
- Consider organic or nontoxic products.