Skip to main content

Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ – Fertilize appropriately

Fertilizer can increase the beauty and health of lawn and landscape.

When used correctly.

Used incorrectly, however, it can wreak havoc on yards, ecosystems and more.

Learning to “Fertilize Appropriately,” then, is high on the list of nine principles that make up Florida-Friendly Landscaping™. The FFL program, from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), aims to help you get a beautiful, sustainable landscape without damaging the environment.

So, how do you fertilize appropriately? Let’s start with the basics: nutrition-rich fertilizer for plants is like vitamin-rich food for humans. Good nutrition can help “green up” a plant, strengthen its stems, and increase its root growth. It also helps plants fight off disease and pests, and can cut down on mowing and pruning needs.

But those benefits rely on knowing how and when to fertilize, how and where to apply it, what type of fertilizer to use, and even who can use which fertilizers.

First, determine if your yard or landscape even needs fertilizer. While nutrient deficiency stresses plants, so, too, does overwatering, incorrect sun-to-shade balance, and simply choosing the wrong plant for the wrong place.

Nine Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™

Right Plant, Right Place – Enjoy healthier plants and reduce work by using plants suited to your landscape conditions
Water Efficiently – Reduce water bills, pest problems, and maintenance needs

FERTILIZE APPROPRIATELY – Prevent pollution and maximize plant health

Mulch – Keep moisture in the soil, help control weeds, and reduce stormwater runoff
Attract Wildlife – Bring your yard to life by providing water, food, and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other creatures
Manage Yard Pests Responsibly – Create an effective defense against pests while minimizing your impact on the environment
Recycle Yard Waste – Re-use your yard waste to save money and enrich your soil
Reduce Stormwater Runoff – Filter rain through your landscape to protect waterways and replenish the aquifer
Protect the Waterfront – Help preserve Florida’s waterways, plants, and wildlife

If you decide fertilizer is needed, compost, worm castings and packaged products will add nutrients to soils. But, know that your entire landscape might not benefit. Mature plants have little need for the additions, since they do not actively grow. Likewise, dormant plants and turf don’t take up nutrients, and new turf needs 30-60 days for roots to establish before they start taking up nutrients. And soil pH can limit nutrient uptake.

Applying fertilizer before expected rains might net you little more than wash-off and waste, and has the potential to foul water bodies. Sarasota County actually restricts fertilizer application from June 1 through Sept. 30, the height of our rainy season (learn more at http://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/SarasotaCoFertilizerBrochure.pdf), and area municipalities also have limits.

County code also requires fertilizers contain at least 50 percent slow-release nitrogen. Florida law caps phosphorous use at a half-pound per 1,000 square feet of landscape each year. And Florida requires fertilizer appliers, other than homeowners on their own property, to be state-certified.

Some additional points to consider:

  • ALWAYS follow the label directions, restrictions and precautions.
  • KNOW the fertilizer composition. Look for three large numbers on the bag: the first shows nitrogen (N) percentage, the second is phosphorus (P), and the last is potassium (K). Use a quality product; cheap fertilizers might damage plants.
  • BUILD IN a “ring of responsibility” around water bodies. Set a border of 10 feet or more where no fertilizers (or pesticides) will be used.
  • CALCULATE the square footage of the area for fertilizer application, and use only enough. Make sure to sweep up material sprayed on driveways, sidewalks and other impervious surfaces.
  • CALIBRATE your spreader before use to apply the correct amount.
  • WATER fertilizers lightly after application; a quarter-inch will wash materials off leaf blades and into the root zone.

Still unsure? The Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS) website of UF/IFAS offers myriad, free fact sheets and publications on fertilizers, nutrient deficiency symptoms, best practices, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ and more, at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

Remember, “Fertilize Appropriately” and you can have that beautiful, healthy yard while also protecting natural resources and water supplies – the ultimate goal of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™.


Wilma Holley is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program specialist for Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability. She has worked for UF/IFAS Extension for more than a decade, and previously worked in nurseries and other landscaping-related operations. Contact her at wholley@scgov.net or 941-861-9900.

Contact your local Extension office to learn more:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *