Managing Palm Fertilization during “Black-Outs”
One of the 9 Florida Friendly Landscaping principles is “Fertilize Appropriately”. As a homeowner or landscaper, sometimes it’s difficult to know what that means during fertilizer “black-out” periods. Fertilizer black-out times are when we are forbidden to use fertilizers containing N (Nitrogen) or P (Phosphorus) in the landscape.
What are fertilizer black-out periods?
Ft. Lauderdale recently issued a Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorous (P) black-out for June 1 – September 30, and other cities are also re- evaluating their current regulations about fertilizer. This change is to protect the waterfronts: our beaches, lakes, and rivers. Restricting fertilizer use can help to prevent toxic algal blooms that sometimes come during the hot summer months. Research shows that run-off from our landscapes can contribute to excessive nutrient load. This excess nutrient can increase the incidence of Red Tide and other detrimental algal bloom events.
Black-out periods also coincide with the summer, when plants are growing quickest and require the most fertilizer to maintain their health. So, what’s the best way to protect the environment while keeping our palms and ornamentals looking their best?
Nutrient deficiencies are more easily prevented than corrected.
In many non-native palm species that we grow here, it is essential to fertilize because our native soil has serious deficiencies of the nutrients they need. Some palms will decline rapidly and even die if not fertilized regularly, and it can take years to correct a deficiency once it appears. If you love your palms and want them to thrive, then you must get on a regular feeding schedule.
What to feed your palms
It is imperative that 100% of the N (Nitrogen), K (Potassium) and Mg (Magnesium) be in SLOW RELEASE form. Since our soils are extremely porous, the only way to keep these nutrients in the tree root zone is to provide them in slow release form. Water soluble fertilizers will quickly leach out during periods of heavy rain and irrigation, wasting money and polluting water.
Look for Palm Special fertilizers having 8N-2P-12K+4Mg with micro-nutrients. Read the label and be sure it states these slow release sources of N (Nitrogen) on the bag: sulfur-coated urea, urea-formaldehyde, resin-coated urea and resin-coated ammonium salts, and follow the recommended application rate, which will depend on the size of the palm.
How you apply fertilizer is also important.
Do not concentrate fertilizer in holes, spikes or bands around the trunks of palms. Spread it uniformly around the area under the canopy. Nutrient movement is always downward, so only a small portion of the root system will be able to capture the nutrients when applied in concentrated areas.
Handling black-outs is easy!
If your city or county prohibits the application of N (Nitrogen) and P (Phosphorous) during the summer months, you can simply apply complete fertilizers in February, when quicker growth begins, May, right before the black-out and then again in November, before winter begins. Studies show that if the August application skips the N (Nitrogen) and P (Phosphorous) component as required by law, but still provides the K (Potassium) and Mg (Magnesium), the palm quality is as good as the traditional recommendation of 4 applications of complete fertilizer per year. (Click here for full details on fertilization.)
Points to remember:
- Always use only slow release fertilizers on palms
- Never concentrate fertilizer – apply evenly around the canopy
- Apply a complete Palm Fertilizer in February, May and November, and only if needed in August, but using formulations without N (Nitrogen) and P (Phosphorous).
While palm special fertilizers are designed with palm trees in mind, they are also suitable for most other types of plants. This includes trees, shrubs, fruit trees and even turfgrass. Trials conducted at UF/IFAS FLREC have shown that St. Augustine grass fertilized with palm maintenance fertilizer had quality equal to that produced by a turf fertilizer.
So, keep it simple.
Using palm maintenance formulations on your total landscape simplifies the process and protects palms from over fertilization caused by high N and K turf formulations. Remember, that tree roots will extend outward and absorb whatever is there. Turf fertilizer formulations with high Nitrogen and Potassium will cause palms to grow too rapidly, and lack the sufficient slow release K (Potassium) and Mg (Magnesium) to support that growth. This can even kill palms from induced K (Potassium) deficiency.
If palms are happy then everybody’s happy!
When it comes to fertilizing your landscape, using a complete palm fertilizer according to directions can make the task easier. Palm fertilizer contains all the necessary nutrients to produce lush and healthy growth of all the plants that live with them, even during fertilizer “black-outs”.