PHOTOS: Be smart about fertilizer this summer

Limitations on nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers over the summer are in place in Naples. Commercially tended blooms may be less spectacular than these, say landscapers, but the ordinance behind the underlying need to combat runoff pollution makes sense.

Photo by QUENTIN ROUX // Buy this photo

Limitations on nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers over the summer are in place in Naples. Commercially tended blooms may be less spectacular than these, say landscapers, but the ordinance behind the underlying need to combat runoff pollution makes sense.

Besides commercial applicators, the city of Naples defines institutional applicators to include owners and managers of public lands, schools, parks, religious institutions, utilities, industrial or business sites, and any residential properties maintained in condominium or common ownership.

All of them are required to be certified. Certification is acquired by completing a best management practices course, and then an annual, mandatory refresher course.

The program is administered by the city manager through the city’s natural resources division.

A further requirement is that city-issued decals be displayed on vehicles used by landscapers.

At least one licensed lawn and landscaped maintenance professional must be on-site where lawn or landscape maintenance is taking place.

Landscape entomologist Doug Caldwell noted in a recent article on the ordinance, that since best management practices training began in Marco 2006, the city registered workers from 175 companies (and Naples landscape employees) for a total of 461 certifications.

“About 500 other landscapers who don’t work in the city have taken the training as well,” Caldwell wrote. “Of these, 87 percent said they would recommend this class to other landscapers.”

Caldwell is the commercial landscape horticulture extension educator and landscape entomologist with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service.

— It’s the kind of ordinance that can easily be broken and go unpunished, but authorities believe plain sensibility and concern for the environment will prevail.

Beginning June 1 and running through Sept. 30, the city of Naples has effectively outlawed the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus on lawns, trees, shrubs, palms or annuals.

The aim, quite simply, is to reduce pollution in its waterways and estuaries from stormwater runoff.

Greater Collier County has not mandated anything similar. Marco Island has passed a best management practices “greenscape” training requirement for licensed landscapers.

County residents, however, are still encouraged to follow fertilizer guidelines as established by the Florida-Friendly Best Management Practices (BMP) of Water Resources by the Green Industries.

The Naples ordinance, approved in 2008, states that stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution for the water bodies within and surrounding the City of Naples.

Proof, it says, is that the state and national departments of environmental protection “historically identified Naples Bay and the Gordon River as impaired as a result of the presence of excess nutrients.”

The main culprits? Nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals associated with fertilizer use.

While the ordinance acknowledges that nutrients are essential elements for plant growth, it calls for the application of the minimum amount of required fertilizer to meet plant needs.

“Excess nutrients are a problem in natural water bodies all over Florida,” said the city’s natural resources manager Mike Bauer.

“One major source of those nutrients is fertilizer washing off lawns whenever we have a rainfall. Thus, storm water runoff becomes a major source of those nutrients, Bauer said.

“We can bring about a major difference in the health of our lakes, rivers, bays and all natural water bodies by changing our habits — using less fertilizer and using it in the right manner. This ordinance is meant to bring about those changes.”

Professional landscaper Alan Brown services areas of Naples as well as Marco Island, and has adhered to the ordinance where mandated. Otherwise, he uses his discretion outside Naples city limits.

For him, it’s simply paying attention to numbers on bags of fertilizer.

“I’m going to use a 0-0-16 blend,” Brown said, explaining that the zeros indicate the percentage amounts of nitrogen and phosphates in the mix, and the 16 in this case the amount of potash in the mix.

For plant growth compensation purposes, his secret is the addition of minor element packages. “They contain a small percentage of different ingredients,” Brown said, “including manganese, iron and zinc.”

One consequence of the phosphate restriction is that ornamentals will typically not produce as many blooms, Brown said, so there is a compromise.

It would be hard to police individual gardeners, Brown said, but collectively effective if people are educated to the underlying reasons for the restrictions.

Lest some people think the restrictions are draconian, the ordinance does include exemptions. They include no limitations on:

■ newly-established turf for the first 60 days after planning or installation.

■ use in areas where soil tests confirm phosphorus levels are below 10 parts per million.

■ vegetable gardens.

There’s encouragement to follow “best management practices” by golf clubs as outlined in a Florida DEP document.

Wizzard Lake Nursery’s George Notary said there’s a give-and-take aspect to the ordinance.

The nursery, along with others, is bound to experience decreased fertilizer sales, Notary said, but that the ordinance simply has to be lived with.

“It’s unfortunate that this is the way we have to go,” he said, “but we understand the potential damage to the environment.”

The nursery’s new plantings are unaffected because of the exception granted in the ordinance, Notary said, so that provides some sales respite.

He said in general, Florida plants seem to flourish quite well once established, and that he knows people with presentable landscaping despite applying minimum tender loving care.

Given the restrictions, Notary said, landscaping should be fine with applications of fertilizer just before and just after the blackout time between June and the end of September.

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