Gardening: Follow the science

Eileen Ward

Here are some more thoughts on the “more restrictive” fertilizer ordinances being implemented in area towns. I was thrilled to see that the city of Naples has changed its ordinance on black-out periods to match the state model. All should all follow suit. They now have the commonsense model advising people not to fertilize when the ground is saturated or heavy rains are expected. 

This last week the conditions for fall fertilizing were perfect. The ground was moist from the past rains and there were no large rain events expected. The plants and lawns are all still actively growing and so would take up and use the fertilizer immediately.

Learn which gardening activities, including fertilizer and pruning, are best for this time of year during a free workshop July 28.

Our lawns and plants are starving for food right now because we have had so much rain this summer and most nutrients have leached out of our sandy soil giving the lawns nothing to work with. Now we are beginning to see a lot of disease due to all the wet weather and the lawns have no nutrients to fight off disease.  Just like people who don’t eat right, plants are more susceptible to disease and sickness when they don’t eat right.  And sick plants and lawns with rotting roots will not be as able to take up and use the applied fertilizer. Thus more nutrients will end up in the water.

The State of Florida implemented a certification requirement called the “Limited Urban Commercial Fertilizer Applicator Certification.” This is located in the Florida Statutes under Chapter 482.1562.  Any person applying fertilizer for-hire must be the licensee and have this license in their pocket when applying fertilizer in the State of Florida.

I cannot get the license as a business owner and allow my employees to fertilize under my license. I would have to push the spreader myself. To get this license you have to take a test and you have to know how to do the math to determine how much nitrogen and other nutrients are in the fertilizer, what the square footage is of the area to be fertilized, what quantity of the fertilizer should be applied to the square footage in question and how to calibrate your fertilizer spreader to apply the determined quantity to your area.  You are also taught the commonsense rules about not allowing the fertilizer to get into water bodies or onto impervious surfaces or down storm drains, how to read a fertilizer label and the plant symptoms and needs for when to fertilize. Before you can take this test you have to take a local class in best management practices, which is not enough to be able to legally apply fertilizer.

Anyone who has gone through the process and is licensed to apply fertilizer does not need to be lead around by the nose and told when and what to use on their landscapes. The state model is a commonsense guideline which should be learned and followed by anyone using fertilizer. 


Don’t fertilize when expecting storms, floods or with saturated soil.

Read the label requirements and follow the Florida Administrative Code and IFAS landscape requirements.

Buffer of 10 feet or 3 feet with a deflector shield.


Agricultural exemption

So if the municipalities want to enforce the use of fertilizer they should stop anyone they see fertilizing and ask to see their license.  If they can’t produce one they should be told to cease and desist immediately and fined if caught again.  A licensed applicator knows what they are doing and an unlicensed one does not.  All fertilizer spreaders should be inspected for a deflector shield and if it doesn’t have one should not be allowed to continue using it.  If someone is fertilizing right after a storm or just before one, they should be told to cease and desist. 

If we are going to become a police state then all sources of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution should be enforced with regulations. Let’s start with all of our storm water flushing directly into the canals when it rains. I noticed the city landscape contractor had some pads put down over the storm drains.  Why doesn’t the city install some form of permanent filter in all of the storm drains to stop pollutants all day every day?

Dog walkers should be inspected for a bag to be sure the waste is being picked up. People should not be allowed to wash their cars on the driveway but should have to do it on the lawn or in a car wash.  And all city car washes should be inspected to make sure they are recycling and properly disposing of the waste water. No one should be allowed to wash their boats on a lift or while in the canal with any products that contain ammonia or phosphates.  Properties using reclaimed water should be put under watering restrictions and not allowed to water more than two days a week or less. Their irrigation systems should be inspected to be sure no reclaimed water is going directly into the gulf or canals or lakes. Golf courses should not be allowed exemptions.

There are many other more egregious habits putting nitrogen into our waterways and it is not fair to go after one industry only. Especially since the state has already taken care of the education of the industry by requiring a license to apply fertilizer. And if you are going to go after something you should be required to “follow the science.” Marco Island refused to invite the scientists to speak when deciding on this issue.  It was a political issue and science was not welcomed in the discussion.

We should have a symposium to discuss and teach all bad habits that foul our waters and give everyone the guidelines necessary to do the right thing.  The majority of Marco Island residents are educated and intelligent people who also want the surrounding waters to be pristine.  And not stupid idiots that cannot be trusted to do the right thing as some of these environmental groups would have you believe.

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Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at Gswdmarco@comcast.net or 239-394-1413.