Fertilizer Awareness & Education
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released the 2021 Manatee Mortality Report that showed 1,101 manatees died, many from starvation. These chubby mermaids thrive on seagrass, but it is disappearing due to the increase in algae blooms. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) has suffered a series of harmful algal blooms, which led to loss in seagrass coverage along Florida’s east central cost. When combined with climate change and sea-level rise, nutrient pollution – such as improperly-treated sewage, leaking septic systems, and fertilizers – threatens the seagrass communities. All these factors combined have led to eutrophication that has resulted in frequent harmful algal blooms that blocked the light necessary for photosynthesis and resulted in the tragic loss of more than 90% of the seagrass biomass within the Indian River Lagoon. Manatees need seagrass to survive, but unfortunately, their food source is declining in these areas.
Pasco County is fortunate to still have plenty of seagrass, but we need to do our part to protect it. Residential fertilizer accounts for approximately 20% of the nitrogen carried in stormwater. The potential for fertilizer runoff is greatest in Tampa Bay between June 1st and September 30th, when the region receives 60% of its average rainfall. When fertilizer is applied correctly, a lawn absorbs the nutrients. However, when fertilizers are applied incorrectly, whether in the wrong quantity or time of application, nitrogen runs off lawns and into local waterbodies. Rising levels of nitrogen have been found in both ground and surface water throughout Pasco County. As a result, an overgrowth of algae and vegetation in natural and constructed waterbodies hinders the effectiveness of flood attenuation.
In 2021, Keep Pasco Beautiful was awarded a Source Water Protection Grant from Tampa Bay Water to establish the new Fertilizer Education and Outreach Program. This new program aims to promote awareness on the importance of proper fertilizer usage, working in conjunction with Pasco County Ordinance No. 14-16. Year round, this ordinance regulates fertilizer use and application including:
· No nitrogen and/or phosphorus fertilizer application during prohibited application periods such as time prior to flooding, tropical storms, or hurricane warning;
· No fertilizer application within 10-feet of any waterbody;
· Introduction of a voluntary 10-foot low maintenance zone adjacent to any waterbody
The first step in deciding whether or not to fertilize is to have your soil tested. The UF/IFAS Extension office has a Soil Testing Laboratory where they can test your soil and provide a detailed analysis of its health and other metrics. For good plant growth, the three most important nutrients needed are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. But how will you know if you are overloading your soil with extra phosphorous or nitrogen through fertilizers? That’s where the soil test comes in handy - it can let you know if your soil needs treatment or improvement. Healthy soil is crucial to starting and maintaining a garden, hopefully one filled with plants for pollinators.