What to do this week –By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”
Now that our gardens are growing and our landscape plants have come to life with an explosion of growth, we need to add the depleted nutrients these plants need back into the soil to help them thrive. Our vegetable gardens, landscape plants, and turf grasses all need to be addressed with fertilizers designed specifically for their individual needs. This week I would like to go over some of the things you should be doing now to prepare your landscape for the summer months. I will also give you some specific information about our upcoming fertilizer restrictions and our blackout period. Let’s get started.
June 1st is right around the corner and this is the day most of our counties will start enforcing the ban on nitrogen fertilizer applications. What this will mean to you is that you will not be able to apply or purchase fertilizers to use on your lawn and landscape. These restrictions will be in place from June 1st through September 30th. For those of you unfamiliar with our fertilizer restrictions, I will give you a brief overview these new restrictions.
Several years ago many of our counties and municipalities instituted a summer fertilizer ban designed to help improve the water quality of our lakes, rivers, and the Bay. These bans restrict the application of nitrogen and phosphorous, key elements of any complete fertilizer application. By restricting these elements during the summer rainy season, water quality issues like algae blooms may be lessened. Fertilizers left on impervious surfaces like driveways or sidewalks are easily washed off during our rainy season. The nutrients released from these fertilizers were then carried into bodies of water causing algae blooms. Algae blooms use up oxygen in our waters and have the possibility of killing the fish inhabiting our shoreline waters.
For these reasons, restrictions were put into place limiting the application of nitrogen and phosphorous based fertilizers during the summer months. Phosphorous, the middle number on a bag of fertilizer can only be used on vegetable gardens and fruiting trees. Application of phosphorous to turf grass can only be made by permit and that is why you see fertilizers for sale with a zero in the middle of the fertilizer analysis. An example of this would be a 14-0-10 fertilizer. The analysis on the bag may change but the middle number will still be zero. Remember, phosphorous is for the creation of blooms and fruit so if you are treating lawns or non-flowering ornamental plants then you do not need to use phosphorous.
I know some of you are asking about your flowering ornamental plants like hibiscus or gardenias. These plants need the phosphorous to help them bloom and the fertilizers available for landscape plants do not contain this element. What can you do? Unfortunately, the restrictions that are currently in place make no any exceptions for landscape plants. However, there are fertilizers which you can still purchase that do have the phosphorous available in the bag. These fertilizers will be labeled specifically for fruit bearing trees like citrus or avocadoes and of coarse vegetable gardens. I do not condone the use these products for your ornamental plants but if you happen to have a fruiting tree nearby, maybe some of that fertilizer will make its way to your flowering plants. Do not be surprised if you notice an increase in the cost of these complete fertilizers, but if you are looking for blooms or fruit you will need to use a complete fertilizer. An example of a complete fertilizer is an 8-10-10.
Once we reach June 1st, the only fertilizers you will be able to purchase will be those for vegetable gardens or fruiting trees. Fertilizers for lawns and shrubs will be banned so make sure you make your purchase this week. If you have not fertilized your lawn yet, then you should do this now. Lawns need additional nitrogen applied now to produce green growth through the summer months. Even if you have a professional service treating your lawn, they too are banned from using fertilizers containing nitrogen on your lawn and ornamentals. That is why you need to act now if you plan on fertilizing your lawn.
Once you go to the garden center to purchase fertilizer you are going to need to know how much fertilizer you will need. In my experience, most residential lawns measure out to about four to five thousand square feet of turf. This means you will need to purchase approximately fifty pounds of fertilizer to cover your entire lawn in one application. Make sure you measure your individual lawn before you arrive at the garden center so you can purchase enough to treat your entire yard. I like to use a 14-0-10 fertilizer for my lawns but there are other fertilizers just as good. Just ask for assistance in selecting a fertilizer for your lawn.
Most professionals apply fertilizers with a rotary spreader and if possible you should too. When I fertilize my lawn I try to fertilize in straight lines from one set point in the yard to another set point at the end of the yard. Fertilizing is an art and if you have not done it before then you may want to hire a professional. When you finish each row, you will need to move your fertilizer spreader over about three feet from the outside tire mark on the pass you just made. This will give you a fifty percent overlap of the last row. Any further apart and you have the possibility of striping your lawn. There is nothing worse than having a green and yellow lawn after you are done! Take your time and do the best you can. Be sure to sweep any fertilizer left on driveways or in the street back into the lawn. You should also be very careful not to get any fertilizer in your pool or on any white surfaces as fertilizers can stain and cause you more problems.
Vegetable gardens need to be fertilized monthly and a good quality 8-10-10 fertilizer will suffice. I like to supplement my vegetable fertilizer program with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle Grow mixed at one-half strength every two weeks to increase production of my garden. I have had several emails from homeowners asking if they could spray their landscape plants with the liquid fertilizer too and the answer is yes. If you have flowering landscape plants or perennials growing in the garden and you want to spray them with a liquid fertilizer like your vegetables then go ahead. This will give you more flowers and bigger blooms. Keep in mind that when you apply the granular fertilizer to your landscape plants you should apply about five pounds per every one hundred square feet.
Certain plants like gardenias are in bloom now and if you fertilize them while the blooms are present, then you have the likelihood of having them drop their blooms to make way for new growth. If you have large beds of plants and you would like to see how they are going to react to the additional fertilizer, then I suggest only treating a small section of the garden and waiting two weeks to see if your plants are going to be ok. If the blooms hang on the plants, then go ahead and apply the rest of the fertilizer to the remainder of the plant beds. Because you may be growing many different types of flowering plants in your landscape, you would be better off safe then sorry and only treating a few plants to see how things go. I have tested my landscape many times and I know which plants to stay away from but for many people this is a learning experience. Even some of our native plants may react differently to additional fertilizer in the landscape so take it slow.
Finally, I need to go over a problem you will all have to deal with shortly, Chinch bugs. Chinch bugs are starting to feed on our turf grass and you should be on the lookout for them. If you have chinch bugs in your lawn now and you have not fertilized your lawn yet, then you should purchase a fertilizer containing Arena. Arena is an insecticide that can be found in many types of fertilizers available at your local garden center. By using Arena when you fertilize, you can kill two birds with one stone. Feed the lawn and kill the chinch bugs at the same time! This could really help your lawn get off to a great start over the summer months.
Please, do not wait! Stop by your local garden center and purchase the fertilizers you need and apply them now. The blackout period starts June 1st. Keep your plants healthy by doing a little extra work now. Watch out for those chinch bugs! Most of all, enjoy what you do and have fun working in the garden. Thanks for your time and remember, without our plants, we would not be here.