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Focus on Florida

Many in the world of lawn care have their eyes on the state of Florida these days. The state has taken the nationwide lead on banning many types of lawn fertilizers in the past year. With products containing high levels of synthetic nitrogen and phosphorus blamed for algae blooms in rivers, streams and ponds throughout Florida, the fertilizer bans have moved county by county. By 2010, the entire state will reportedly say no to TurfBuilder, Turfbuilder Plus-2 and similar products.

Laws like this are especially important in Florida due to a water table that is perilously close to the surface of the soil. That doesn’t mean other states shouldn’t have the same bans in place, however. Indeed, at least 10 other states are considering similar legislation. The issues are laid out well in an article by David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. is in favor of the bans, of course, because we know that lawns and landscapes can thrive without all those chemical products. Our web site is full of resources, including more than 20 videos, to show you how to make the transition.

South Florida lawns are polluting our waterways

A bill in the Legislature would ban fertilizers with phosphorous, which is feeding invasive plants that crowd out native vegetation

By David Fleshler
In the elaborately landscaped neighborhoods of Boca Raton, Pembroke Pines and other cities with big lawns, a group of polluters is compiling a record to match the oil, coal and chemical industries.

Homeowners dump thousands of pounds of fertilizer on their lawns and gardens every year, allowing massive amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen to wash into Florida’s rivers, lakes and canals. The chemicals fertilize the growth of cattails, hydrilla and other invasive plants in places like the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, crowding out native vegetation, eliminating food for fish, snakes and ducks. Carried by canals into the ocean, they help generate mats of coral-smothering algae. In north and central Florida, they produce algae blooms in many of the state’s 700 natural springs.

A bill in the state Legislature would ban fertilizers that contain phosphorous unless a soil test determined a need for it. Although the bill focuses on 700 natural springs of central and northern Florida through such measures as better treatment of residential sewage, the phosphorous ban would reduce a major source of pollution in South Florida.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lee Constantine, R- Altamonte Springs, has wide support among environmental groups but faces opposition from the fertilizer and home building industries. Supporters say the change would have no effect on Florida homeowners because few Florida soils need phosphorous.

Opponents say most lawns need phosphorous and that a testing requirement would greatly complicate the task of lawn care, forcing homeowners to _become amateur chemists and leaving many with thin, patchy lawns.

The proposal originated with John Hitchcock, a Palm Bay duck hunter. Taking his boat into the creeks and rivers of northeast Florida, he watched with dismay as prime duck habitat was overrun with cattails and other fast-growing plants, fertilized by phosphorous washed off the lawns of expanding suburban neighborhoods.

“In the early ’80s, you could pretty much take a jon boat into the open marsh and you could find just clouds of ducks,” he said. “Now it’s pretty much destroyed the Upper St. Johns. They’ve been infested with cattails and hydrilla.”

Phosphorous is included in many common brands such as Vigoro All Purpose Fertilizer, Schultz Plant Food Plus and Miracle-Gro Shake ‘n Feed. Excluding farms, Floridians used about 8,035 tons of it in fertilizer last year, mostly on lawns, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Although the total has been dropping steadily — possibly because of higher prices, better education and tighter rules — environmentalists say _Florida’s waterways continue to suffer from the excessive use of gardening chemicals.

“It’s cheap down at the local home store, and the customer dumps it on their grass when they have no idea how much phosphorous they need, which is zero,” said Eric Draper, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida. “Fertilizer is just this huge, uncontrolled source of pollution.”

The home building industry, battered by the recession, is concerned that the legislation would raise the price of new homes by requiring costly sewage-treatment systems and force existing homeowners with springs to spend up to $15,000 to upgrade their systems.

“We are concerned about the enormous financial burden it would impose,” said Edie Ousley, spokeswoman for the Florida Home Builders Association.

Mary Hartney, president of the Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association, said the issue had been addressed by a state rule that encourages use of low-phosphorous fertilizer and that the best approach would be to educate homeowners on the proper use of fertilizer, such as the need to keep it away from streets, driveways and waterways.

Chris Wible, director of environmental stewardship for industry giant Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., said the company already sells low-phosphorous and_no-phosphorous fertilizers in Florida. Homeowners should be encouraged to use fertilizer properly and avoid cutting their lawns too short, to reduce runoff. But he said it would be unreasonable for the state to require a soil test before the use of fertilizers with phosphorous. The test could be done by a landscaper or by the homeowner with a kit from their county agricultural extension agency.

“It’s very cumbersome,” he said. “We don’t want the consumer to be an agronomist. The homeowner should be able to go into the garden center or Lowe’s and pick up a bag and know that it will work.”

Laurie Trenholm, associate professor of environmental horticulture at the University of Florida, said most Florida lawns need some phosphorous. “Turf grass, once it’s planted, its need for phosphorous is relatively low,” she said.

Although excessive nitrogen is also a problem, environmentalists say the case for a ban would be more difficult to make because it is a necessary fertilizer component for Florida lawns.

Donna Torrey, owner of Garden Gate Garden Center in Pompano Beach, which emphasizes organic gardening, said few customers think about phosphorous in fertilizer and few will miss it.

“I don’t think the consumer is going to be affected,” she said. “The plants are going to be fine and the consumers are going to be fine. I’m not so sure about the chemical companies.”

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Arthur Daniels

    Why not just ban lawns! If you’ve seen one blade of grass, you’ve seen them all. Grass is boring! Replace lawns with native plants, trees and ground covers that do not require incessant use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, all of which are bound to enter our underground water supply.

    • Burney Morgan

      There is a proven replacement for commercial fertilizers and this product was developed by the Microbiology department of Michigan State University. This product is called Bio Soil and is completely environmentally safe and it outperforms triple 13 commercial fertlizers. Any runoff containing this product WILL NOT harm the environment because it is made up of natural microbes and humate.

      Bio Soil is a new soil amendment product that completely eliminates the need for commercial fertilizer. As stated before, Bio Soil was developed by Michigan State University under the direction of Dr. C.A. Reddy, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State. If you wish you can view the Michigan State News webpage at

      Dr. Reddy was also the keynote speaker for this product in New Delhi for the 4th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture back in February of this year.

      Barembrug USA is now testing Bio Soil as a seed coating product for their seed. Barembrug scientists are working directly with Dr. Reddy at Michigan State now.

      The marketing license is owned by Bio Soil Enhancers Inc. and the product is produced in Hattiesburg Mississippi. If you wish any information on this product, please email me at

      website: (new website being developed now)

    • Kim D.

      No kidding Arthur! I have been on that same thought for years, but trying to convince my husband has been a battle. We have 2 1/2 acres fully landscaped with St Augustine and various plants and trees. When we built 10 years ago, our landscape designer and landscaper recommended it all, and we really had no idea what it would entail. Needless to say, we have just ripped out 1 acre of our lawn to plant edible landscapes. (I already converted 3/4 acre last year to completely organic) AND…I can’t tell you how our neighors and friends are responding. They are so excited about eating what we will harvest in the future(organic grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and peaches) The most exciting thing is that our landscaper is on board completely and has already begun organic edible landscapes in his own yard. ;-)

  • Marsha Smith

    It is not only the lawns in Florida causing problems, it is also the citrus industry.WASHINGTON, June 16 (UPI) — U.S. government scientists said they have found pesticide-related compounds and elevated levels of nitrate in several central Florida lakes.

    The U.S. Geological Survey said the compounds found in Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge region include currently used pesticides.
    “These findings support previous studies in this region that indicate a high potential for chemicals applied on the land to be carried with the water through sandy soils,” Anne Choquette, lead author of the USGS study, said.
    “This area is a major citrus producer for Florida and for the nation. The long-growing season means that pesticides are applied multiple times per year,” Choquette said. “When you combine that with a wet climate, soils lacking in organic materials to help filter or break down substances and porous drinking-water aquifers, you have a water system that must be watched closely,”
    Lakes in the area are not used for public drinking water and none of the samples exceeded federal or state drinking-water benchmarks for nitrate or pesticide concentrations, the researchers said.
    More than 200 lakes are in Lake Wales Ridge in Florida’s Polk and Highland counties.

  • Inobunugh

    hi. great article!

  • Jim

    Excellent article! Our company started an all natural lawn care program for all of are clients, in the Central Florida area. We are seeing excellent results on all of our properties and are happy to be on board with the SafeLawns organization. Keep up the good work!

  • Jack Stands

    Pollution is such a serious issue, and sometimes I really wish people can beware of what they are doing to the environment. You really need to think in the long term. Often times people take water for granted, and it’s so sad there are actually a huge number of people in our world who doesn’t have clean water to drink. It’s not only a problem for mankind, but for animals as well. I think if people can begin to pay more attention on environmental issues, that’ll be beneficial for the society as a whole.

  • Andrew Boshears

    If you live in South Broward County and want to use an Organic Fertilzer with natural alternatives to pesticides for herbivorous insect control. Call me at 1-888-312-GREEN (4733). Click on my name to check out our website.

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