Fertilizer ingredients contribute to SWFL’s algae crisis

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
A pile of different fertilizers. Credit: WINK News

Do you know exactly what you put on your lawn? When fertilizer containing phosphorus and nitrogen ends up in our water, it can feed the toxic algae we’re struggling to reduce.

When we think of algae blooms, a lot of people are quick to blame it all on Lake Okeechobee releases, but part of the blame lies in our own backyard. The chemicals from fertilizers get pushed into waterways and are partly to blame for algae blooms that dissolve oxygen and kill fish. Therefore, do not apply fertilizer within 10 feet of a body of water.

First, look at the ingredients in the fertilizer, then take a look at your WINK News Weather app; you don’t want to apply fertilizer before it rains, because then the runoff from your lawn can get picked up and washed away into the Caloosahatchee.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida says to make sure your fertilizer product contains no less than 50% slow-release nitrogen, as well as 0% phosphorus. A slow-release product will help to ensure that the next time it rains, the nutrients aren’t washed away quickly.

“Just like when we apply fertilizer onto our yard, it’s helping things grow,” said Amber Crooks, environmental policy manager for the Conservancy of SWFL. “One thing we don’t need in our waterways is [an] excess of nutrients that will help algae grow into sometimes those massive and toxic blooms.”

Here in Florida, a lot of our plants have adapted to the extreme conditions, so most of them do pretty well without fertilizer at all.

“The watershed itself supplies a lot of nutrients; even more southern, [they] come out of Lake Okeechobee,” said Barry Rosen, Ph.D., professor at the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University. “So the nutrients from any kind of lawn fertilizers that flow into the Caloosahatchee feed these organisms; they need nitrogen, they need phosphorus.”

There are some “summer safe” fertilizer options available with no nitrogen or phosphorus, which is a better way to fertilize your lawn. Keep in mind that Sanibel, Cape Coral, unincorporated Lee County, and Marco Island have bans on fertilizers containing those ingredients during the rainy season.

If you have a lawn service, ask about the fertilizer it uses. You’ll want to make sure it’s in compliance with all those aforementioned precautions, and ask if it’s using a fertilizer without nitrogen or phosphorus. Make sure the least amount possible is being applied and local ordinances are being followed.

The Fertilize Smart website is a great resource, with guidelines on what you can and can not do, encouraging you to give fertilizer a summer vacation.

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