Florida Friendly Fertilizer

The City of Boca Raton’s Florida Friendly Fertilizer Ordinance – in effect December 31, 2018

Ordinance 5469, which went in to effect December 31, 2018 dictates the type, amount, timing, and locations of fertilizer use in the City of Boca Raton.

Why is the ordinance necessary?

Boca Raton is a coastal community with canals, lakes, wetlands, waterways, and an ocean all hydrologically connected. Improper use of fertilizer can contribute to nutrient pollution in our surface and groundwater. These nutrients can facilitate algae and aquatic plant growth, lowering the quality of the water and impacting human and environmental health.

What restrictions does the Ordinance place on fertilizers?

Restrictions on the TYPE of fertilizer used. Fertilizers should be “no phosphate”meaning less than 0.5% phosphate and be indicated as a zero (0) on the bag’s N-P-K ratio.

Restrictions in the AMOUNT of fertilizer used.

For each species of grass there are differing limitation on the maximum pounds of Nitrogen which can be applied per 1000 square feet per application as well as a maximum annual application amount. For any application of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet, no more than 0.7 pounds can be readily available.

TABLE 1: Maximum pounds of Nitrogen per application per 1000 square feet by grass species and maximum annual pounds.


Bahiagrass

Bermuda

Centipede

St. Augustine

Zoysia

Spring/Summer max. ibs. N per application per 1000 sq. ft.

2

2

2

2

2

Fall/Winter max. ibs. N per application per 1000 sq. ft.


1

1

1

1

1

Max annual ibs. N

2-4

5-7

2-3

4-6

2.5-4.5

Restrictions on WHEN fertilizer can be applied.

  • No application during a flood watch, tropical storm watch or warning, or a hurricane watch or warning.
  • No application when 2 inches or more rain is forecast within a 24-hour period.
  • No application when soils are saturated. Saturated soils have standing water or water is released by the pressure of a footstep.
  • No application before seeding or sodding a site or within 30 days after seeding.
  • Application only when turf is actively growing. Actively growing turf requires mowing at least every two weeks.

Restrictions on WHERE fertilizer can be applied.

  • No application of fertilizer within 10 feet of any water body, 3 feet if using a deflector shield or drop spreader.
  • Fertilizer can not be applied either intentionally or unintentionally to an impervious surface. Unintentional application must be immediately cleaned up.
  • Grass clippings and other vegetative matter must be prevented from entering stormwater drains and water bodies.

As a commercial or institutional applicator, what are the requirements?

Required Training:

  • All commercial and institutional applicators of fertilizers within the City of Boca Raton must complete the “Florida-Friendly Best Management Practices for Protection of Water Resources by the Green Industries” otherwise known as GI-BMP.
  • These trainings are available in both English and Spanish and are offered by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF|IFAS) extension service. Look for dates and registration information on the UF|IFAS website. Other approved equivalent programs may substitute for the UF|IFAS training.

Business Tax Certificate requirements:

  • Prior to obtaining or renewing a business tax certificate shall provide evidence of completion of the training program to the City of Boca Raton.
  • Commercial applicators of fertilizers who are not required to hold a business tax receipt shall register with the City and provide evidence of training.

How do I calculate how much fertilizer I can use on my lawn?

To calculate how much total fertilizer can be applied, calculate for both the seasonal max limitation and the readily available limitation and use the weight which is less.

Calculation:

Pounds of fertilizer = maximum weight of N allowed / percentage of N

When calculating how much fertilizer can be applied, calculate according to the total nitrogen allowed per application by the season and compare it to the readily available nitrogen that can be applied per application. Use the lowest amount. Always remember this is not the amount that you should use but the maximum you can use. Do not apply more fertilizer than is necessary even if it is within these restrictions.

Repeat the equations with your annual maximums for your turf type to determine how much fertilizer you may apply in a year and keep track of your applications.

Remember that the numbers you calculate are the MAXIMUM allowed, not necessarily the amount needed. Using too much fertilizer not only costs you money but can damage plants. Apply fertilizer only if and when necessary and use the least amount you can while seeing the desired results. Use Florida Friendly Landscaping practices to reduce the need for fertilizer.

Why can’t I use fertilizers which contain phosphorus?

Florida soils already contain high levels of Phosphorus making additional inputs of the nutrient unnecessary. If you believe that your soil is deficient of Phosphorus and you need to use fertilizer containing Phosphorus, you must verify the need through an approved soil test from the University of Florida, government, or other commercial licensed laboratory that regularly performs soil testing and recommendations. UF|IFAS has more information on soil testing.

I use a lawn service; how do I know if I am in compliance with the ordinance?

Your lawn care service can show you how they are fertilizing your yard and provide you details on the products that they use. As of December 31st, 2018 all commercial landscapers operating in the City of Boca Raton should be in compliance with the ordinance. If your company has an up to date business tax receipt with the City they will have demonstrated to the City that they have completed the required training in Florida-Friendly Best Management Practices for Protection of Water Resources by the Green Industries (GI-BMP).

My property is on a canal/lake/Intracoastal/etc. How do I maintain my yard without fertilizer?

Properties on water bodies must take extra care as fertilizer can more directly wash in to the waterways. For this reason, fertilizer cannot be applied within 10 feet of the water body (3 feet if a deflector shield or drop spreader is used.)

The ordinance suggests that property owners and managers use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies and utilize plant selection and landscape design standards of the UF|IFAS Florida Friendly Landscape Program.

The purpose of IPM is to address pest issues at the root causes, thereby reducing the need for additional chemical inputs and continuous treatment of the problem. You can learn more about IPM practices from UF|IFAS.

Florida Friendly Landscaping encourages plant selection, landscape design, and gardening practices which keep in mind the Florida environment. Florida native plants are adapted to Florida soils and climate, requiring less irrigation and fertilizer than exotic ornamental plants. You can find out more about the nine principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping as well as access plant guides from the UF|IFAS Florida Friendly Landscaping program.

Installing low maintenance, no-mow, Florida Friendly landscaping around your waterfront will not only allow for a beautiful landscape without the need for nitrogen fertilizer, it will also provide benefits for wildlife and serve as a buffer between the water and runoff from your yard, roof, driveway, and street, filtering out pollutants and helping maintain high water quality in your canal, lake, or waterway.

Can I use fertilizer in the summer?

While some other local communities have opted to include a nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer black out period over the summer months where these fertilizers cannot be applied at all, the restrictions in Boca Raton’s ordinance are dependent on actual weather conditions rather than seasonal expectations. Application is prohibited if the soils are inundated, such as after a heavy rain event, if 2 inches or more of rain are forecast in 24 hours, or if there are watches or warnings in place for floods, tropical storms, or hurricanes. While, functionally, this may black out much of the summer when daily heavy rains are not unusual, it does not restrict applying fertilizer when there are several dry days together.

Oops!  I spilled the fertilizer! What do I do?

Accidents happen, but it is prohibited to apply fertilizer to impervious areas, even if accidental. If you spill fertilizer, you must clean it up immediately. Use a broom to collect and remove the fertilizer. Take any precautions necessary to prevent the fertilizer from washing off the impervious surface and in to a storm drain. Similarly, any plant material that may contain fertilizer -such as grass clippings- should be bagged or mulched, never blown in to the street or down a storm drain. Also consider where you are storing your fertilizer. Keep it in a dry enclosed space to prevent the container from degrading and fertilizer spilling. When containers are empty or if disposing of unwanted fertilizer or other household chemicals, take them to one of SWA’s Household Hazardous Waste and Recycling drop off centers

I have a vegetable garden, does this ordinance apply?

The regulations regarding Nitrogen and Phosphorus levels apply to turf and landscape plants. Fertilizers may be used on vegetable gardens as long as other provisions of the ordinance are met. Fertilizer may not be applied to gardens during storm warnings or watches or when heavy rain is forecast. Vegetable gardens may not use fertilizer if they are within 10 feet of a water body.  Fertilizer must be stored, contained, and prevented from spills as described in the ordinance. Use the resources from UF|IFAS to learn responsible ways to fertilize your vegetable garden and to avoid over application of fertilizer.

Will this ordinance prevent harmful algal blooms?

According to FWC, A harmful algal bloom (HAB) is the proliferation of a toxic or nuisance algal species that negatively affects natural resources or humans. Blooms may initiate offshore, but if the bloom moves inshore, nutrient runoff from land may promote bloom expansion. Reducing nutrient pollution can reduce the nutrients available for harmful algae to use for growth inshore.

What else is Boca Raton doing to reduce nutrient pollution?

In order to reduce nutrients in the environment from septic tanks, the City of Boca Raton embarked on an ambitious and successful effort to connect areas using septic tanks to central sewer. This effort has resulted in more than 99.9% of the City being connected to the central sewer system. 

In effort to reduce nutrients through ocean outfall discharge, the City established the In-City Reclamation Irrigation System (IRIS) program and began providing customers with highly treated wastewater or reclaimed water for irrigation in 1991. Prompted by the State of Florida enacting the 2008 “Ocean Outfall” legislation requiring the five ocean outfall utilities in Southeast Florida to reduce nutrient discharges through their ocean outfalls and increase reclaimed water usage by 2025, the City aggressively expanded the IRIS program. The expansion of the IRIS program lead to the City’s wastewater treatment facility being designated as a 100% reuse facility in 2015, well in advance of the 2025 legislative requirements. The highly treated reclaimed water is used on golf courses, schools, parks, and other properties in the City.

To reduce nutrient pollution from our City managed facilities, Boca Raton uses Best Management Practices when applying fertilizers to public properties. The City began training maintenance supervisors in GI-BMPs in 2006 and began training crew members in 2011. 

Where can I learn more?

You can read the ordinance on the City's website. The full text of Rule 5E-1.003(2) of the Florida Administrative Code, referenced in the ordinance, can be found in the Florida Administrative Code.

If you have a question about gardening in Florida, a great resource is the Palm Beach County Master Gardener hotline. Give them a call at 561-233-1750 or visit the County website at pbcgov.org.

Learn more about your impact on the environment and water quality and some of the justification for the ordinance from the South Florida Water Management District.

Learn more about Florida Friendly fertilizer management.

Download the GI-BMP manual in either Spanish or English.