Fertilizer Management

What is Considered Fertilizer?

Fertilizer is a natural or artificial substance containing chemical elements that assist in the growth and productivity of plants generally by replenishing nutrients in soil.

The most common chemicals in fertilizers are nitrogen and phosphorus. 

Plants use nitrogen for leaf growth and promote greener leaves while phosphorus is used by for fruit, flower, and root growth.  

Each species of plant has a specific amount of nutrient required for proper growth and if the soil is overfertilized, it may damage or kill the plants. This is known as “fertilizer burn.” Additionally, soils can only store a certain amount of nutrients and excess fertilization can result in these nutrients going to unintended places discussed below. 

Fertilizer's Impact on Natural Waterbodies

When nutrients from fertilizer enters a natural waterbody, either directly or via the stormwater system, it can result in a degradation of water quality. Just like when fertilizer is used on your lawn or garden to make plants grow it also makes the plants in waterways grow as well, such as algae, aquatic grasses, water lilies, and cattails.

When an abundance of nutrients enters waterbodies, algal blooms can occur. Once the algae deplete the nutrient supply in the water, they begin to die and bacteria consumes the oxygen in the water in order to breakdown the decaying algae. Lack of dissolved oxygen in the water can kill fish and other aquatic life. This addition of excess nutrients to waterbodies is known as eutrophication. 

Other native, aquatic plants are used as food and habitats for wildlife and provide erosion control by holding sediment in place with their roots. In addition to depleting dissolved oxygen, excessive amounts of algae can result in blocking sunlight from entering the water that other native plants need to grow.

Infographic of Eutrophication

Harmful Algae Blooms

Cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, is not actually algae but a type of bacteria that can create energy using the sun and macronutrients, similar to plants. These bacteria can bloom, similar to algae, but also produce toxins that are harmful to humans and wildlife. There is no way to tell if an algae bloom is toxic by looking at it, so it’s best to avoid contact whenever possible.

Hand scooping up water filled with blue green algae

Orange County Fertilizer Management Ordinance

Orange County has established a Fertilizer Management Ordinance - Chapter 15, Article XVII that applies to all parts of the County, including the City of Apopka.

Individual Persons Requirements

From June 1st to September 30th

  • Do not apply fertilizers, per the Orange County Fertilizer Management Ordinance. 

From October 1st to May 31st 

  • Do not apply fertilizer that contains phosphorus unless a soil test shows a phosphorus deficiency for that area
  • If using a fertilizer with nitrogen, 65% of the nitrogen must be slow release
  • Do not apply more than 1 pound of total nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of landscape
  • Do not apply more than 3 pounds of total nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn

Year Round Requirements 

  • Implement deflector shields on broadcast spreaders when used next to streets, inlets, ditches, conveyances, and waterways
  • Do not apply fertilizer within 25 feet from waterways
  • Do not apply fertilizer when a National Weather Service issues an advisory for severe thunderstorm, flood, tropical storm, or hurricane

Commercial and Government Requirements

Orange County assists in facilitating training and certification programs for Commercial and Institutional Applicators in order to help businesses maintain compliance with the ordinance.

Through Orange County, the University of Florida’s IFAS extension hosts Green Industries-Best Management Practice Certification courses. This course is required by Florida law for commercial and institutional fertilizer applicators for them to be licensed as a Fertilizer Applicator in the State of Florida. 

All retail businesses that sell fertilizers are required to display this notice where the fertilizer is sold in the store.

Educational Opportunities

There are several opportunities within Orange County to become better informed about the fertilizer management ordinance and good stewardship practices that can be used to reduce the amount of nutrients entering natural waterbodies.

To learn more, visit Orange County’s Fertilize Responsibly webpage or contact them directly at fertilizer@ocfl.net or (407) 836-1400.

You can also watch this video for more information on how to properly manage fertilizer with Central Florida soils.

Other Things You Can Do to Help

  • Sweep up fertilizers from paved surfaces
  • Mulch your grass clippings into your yard or compost them. These clippings contain nutrients that can be reintroduced to your lawn or garden
  • Keep yard trimmings/grass clippings from entering the road or storm drain where they can cause eutrophication of downstream waterbodies
Sprouting plant with elements of the soil composition labeled