A recent opportunity to present landscape fertilizer practices to the Naples City Council earlier this month helped me boil down, in my mind, the multitude of recommendations that can be found in the FYN (Florida Yards and Neighborhood) program.
You can see 2006 updated, Third edition, FYN Handbook at:
You can find the “Florida Green Industries Best Management Practices [BMPs] for Protection of Water Resources in Florida” at:
Otherwise, call us for a copy these wisdom booklets.
The four major practices that would conserve water and reduce potential fertilizer or pesticide environmental risks are:
Use your rain sensor
If you do not have a rain sensor, you need one, as it is a local ordinance that code enforcement personnel can cite/fine you on if you don’t have it. Check your rain sensor to make sure it is working,; most brands can be set it so that the right amount of rainfall shuts off the irrigation system time clock.
Practice drought conditioning
The aim is to develop deeper rooted turf that won’t require as much water and a denser root system that will capture fertilizer elements more effectively. An A and B are needed here:
-- A. Watch the blades (grass) to determine when to water. Use 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week in the summer (rainfall will normally be sufficient, hence the need to use a rain sensor to prevent those embarrassing moments when the irrigation goes on during the afternoon rainstorm).
Otherwise, dispense this water with two irrigation periods per week during the summer. Longer, less frequent watering will encourage deeper rooting. During the winter, AKA, the dry season, we have short days and cooler temperatures, the turf slows and can go semi-dormant. Use half as much water, run the irrigation once per week in the winter and shoot for 0.5 to 0.75-inch per week.
-- B. Watch the blades (mowers). Mow St. Augustine (Floratam) turfgrass at 3 to 4 inches. It looks to me like many lawns are getting scalped. These lawns will have short, stunted roots. Mowing higher will enhance the development of a deeper root system.
Carefully select and calculate fertilizer
Calculate how much fertilizer and what kind you need to apply. Follow the BMP standards in the handbook mentioned in the second paragraph of this story, and do your math, so that you are using 4 to 6 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year of turf or plant bed area. Use a low-nitrogen (N) and very low-phosphorous (P) content fertilizer, such as an 8(N)-2(P)-12(K). (The K stands for potassium.)
Follow the “ring of responsibility” rule when applying fertilizer and pesticides around ponds and surface water. This requires keeping a 10-foot buffer if you do not have a deflector shield on your fertilizer spreader. If you have a deflector shield, you can target the granules to land within 3 feet of the high-water mark.
Remember that a healthy, dense yard of turf is like a sponge and will utilize the majority of the fertilizer applied to it and also absorb pesticides, if these products are applied correctly.
Encourage community awareness
Communities should make an effort to remind those who will be departing for the summer to set their irrigation clocks so that they reduce their irrigation time (or shut them off!) and also confirm that these homeowners have a rain sensor that works. Have observant neighbors or an irrigation-lawn care service keep an eye on their yards and adjust the irrigation time as needed.
Just because you can irrigate three times a week doesn’t mean you need to.
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Doug Caldwell is landscape horticulture agent for the University of Florida, Collier County Cooperative Extension Service. For more information on home gardening, contact its Master Gardener Plant Clinic at 353-2872. For specimen identification, the clinic, at 14700 Immokalee Road, is open 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; call 353-2872. Web site: collier.ifas.ufl.edu.