Summer fertilizer restrictions go into effect Saturday in Tampa, Pinellas and Manatee

05/29/13 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

This Saturday is the official start of hurricane season. It’s also the unofficial beginning of the rainy season in Florida and when some local fertilizer restrictions go into effect.

Beginning June 1, residents of Pinellas and Manatee counties and the City of Tampa can’t apply phosphorous or nitrogen to their lawns.

We spoke with Nanette O’Hara, the public outreach coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

"On June 1st, restrictions on use and sales of lawn or landscape fertilizers containing nitrogen will begin and those will continue through September 30th, our summer rainy season."

Those are going into effect in Pinellas county, Manatee county, and the city of Tampa. Are there differences between those three jurisdictions and, in general, what kind of restrictions will there be?

"Yes. There are slight differences. Pinellas and Tampa have very similar, almost identical ordinances and their ordinances restrict both the use of those fertilizers and the sales of those fertilizers containing nitrogen. So if you go to a local garden center starting Saturday anywhere in Pinellas or anywhere within the incorporated city limits of Tampa, you would not be able to buy a lawn or landscape fertilizer with nitrogen in it, with a few exceptions, for instance, vegetable fertilizer. In Manatee county there are no sales restrictions only use restrictions, so you can't actually use fertilizers containing nitrogen on your lawn or landscape in Manatee county."

Why would these municipalities limit nitrogen fertilizers during the summer time?

"The summer time is when we get most of our rains in Florida. I mean, anyone who lives here knows we are already starting to see some of our summer afternoon rainy patterns setting in. When we get those rains daily during the summer-time it can wash all the fertilizer granules right off your yard and into the nearest waterway, whether it's a storm water pond or a lake or the Hillsborough River or Tampa Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. When too much nitrogen goes into waterways it causes those really nasty-looking algae blooms that none of us like to see. That can also lead to a drastic reduction in oxygen levels in the water and even really bad things like fish kills."

Have you seen any of the effects of these nitrogen bans?

"Well we are monitoring that now and typically when you put a regulation into effect you wont see an immediate response. We may have some answers within the next year or two. I do know that we have not had any major, major algae blooms in the Bay over the last two years and that's good. That's anecdotal evidence, but clearly something is going right in Tampa Bay. Our water quality is definitely meeting all the targets and we haven't seen those big algae blooms that we saw a few summers ago in the last two summers."

Are there alternatives to fertilizing or are there alternatives to having lawns?

"Yes, there are alternatives to both of those and I'm glad you asked. If you have a lawn and you're concerned about it making it through the summer one thing you can apply is iron, which is exempt. You can buy iron beginning Saturday or any time during the summer and you can apply that on your lawn. That will actually keep your lawn green, but it won't encourage growth. So, the good thing is you will have a green lawn, but you won't have to mow it as much because it won't promote that growth. Another solution - a really great long-term solution that is good for our entire area and environment - is to reduce or eliminate the amount of turf grass you have on your lawn. If you need grass for a play area for your children or for your dogs then definitely that is a reason to have it. If you don't need grass, you can consider replacing your grass with something that doesn't require a lot of water, doesn't require fertilizer, doesn't require a lot of pesticides. There are many, many beautiful ground covers - native plants and other non-native, but Florida-adapted plants - that you can use instead of grass. That not only reduces the resources that are required to maintain your landscape, it will save you time and sweat-equity because you won't have to put as much effort into your yard and it will definitely boost the diversity of your yard. For instance, if you like butterfly's, you can create a beautiful butterfly garden to attract butterfly's and other pollinators. If you like birds you can plant trees and shrubs that birds like that provide berry's or other food for birds. So you can add a whole lot of diversity and interest to your landscape in other ways besides grass."

And finally, Manatee county, Pinellas county, and the city of Tampa have enacted these fertilizer ordinances. Is there anything else that can be done to reduce the amount of nitrogen in Tampa Bay?

"Yes. Currently, storm water in general is the biggest source of nitrogen in Tampa Bay, but certainly fertilizer is not the only component of storm water runoff. Simple things like picking up after your dog, you know, pet waste is a source of nutrients. Diving more fuel efficient cars or driving less is a great solution because air pollution definitely has an effect on water quality. What goes up, must come down and those nitrogen oxides that are coming out of cars and our boats and our lawnmowers and trucks ends up in Tampa Bay too. So, there are lots of things we can do in our everyday life that will help to reduce the amount of nitrogen in Tampa Bay and nitrogen is our number one pollutant in Tampa Bay."

Here are previous WMNF News stories on fertilizer restrictions

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