Florida summer fertilizer ban begins June 1. Here’s what you need to know – TCPalm

The Treasure Coast’s annual summer fertilizer ban goes into effect in each county June 1 to protect water quality in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie River.

All businesses and residences are prohibited from using fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus between June 1 and Sept. 30. 

The ban coincides with Florida’s wet season, when rain is more likely to wash fertilizer into ditches and creeks leading to the lagoon and river, where algae gorges on it. The resulting blooms can kill seagrass and marine animals that depend on seagrass beds.

Manatees, which feed on seagrass, are starving this year at a record rate. At least 749 died between Jan. 1 and May 21, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data. The record was 830 for all of 2013.

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st. Lucie County’s Water Quality Division wants to remind all residents and businesses that the county-wide fertilizer ban once again goes into effect June 1 through Sept. 30. This applies to all businesses and residences living in unincorporated St. Lucie County, as well as the cities of Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie.

Why do we have a summer fertilizer ban?

Between 2010 and 2015, over 40 counties, cities and towns along the Indian River Lagoon enacted laws banning the use of fertilizers with nitrogen and phosphorus that can fuel harmful algae blooms. The 156-mile-long lagoon runs through five counties: Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin, with a sliver in Palm Beach. 

Algae blooms can be red tide, brown tide or blue-green. The latter, formally called cyanobacteria, can contain the toxin microcystin. Exposure can cause rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled and nausea, vomiting and fatal liver disease if ingested.

BMAA, another toxin found in algae, can trigger neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s. Dogs in Stuart have even died from having algae in their urine and liver.

The Environmental Protection Agency deems water unsafe if it contains 8 parts per billion of microcystin or more.

What can I use instead of fertilizer?

To find a ban-compliant fertilizer, look for three numbers on the fertilizer bag and pick one with zeroes for the first two numbers, such as “0-0-16.” The first number represents the percentage of nitrogen, the second the percentage of phosphorus.

The third is potassium, which isn’t part of the ban.

Most ordinances allow the use of “yard waste compost, mulches or other similar materials that are primarily organic in nature,” but that doesn’t include organic fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus. 

What happens after the ban is lifted?

Most fertilizer laws along the lagoon still have year-round requirements:

  • Fertilizers with nitrogen must contain at least 50% slow-release nitrogen
  • Fertilizing with phosphorus is banned without a verified soil or plant deficiency
  • No fertilizing within 10 feet of any pond, stream, waterway, lake, canal or wetland (25 feet in Martin County)
  • No fertilizing during watches or warnings for floods, tropical storms and hurricanes.

The bans generally apply to both businesses and residences; and most have exceptions for agriculture, golf courses and athletic fields.

Residents, businesses and lawn companies also have to keep an eye on grass clippings and leaves: They can be washed into stormwater drains and can dump excess nutrients harmful to the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie River. 

For more news, follow Max Chesnes on Twitter.

Max Chesnes is a TCPalm environment reporter covering issues facing the Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. You can keep up with Max on Twitter @MaxChesnes, email him at max.chesnes@tcpalm.com and give him a call at 772-978-2224.

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