Rainy season ban on fertilizer application begins June 1

May 21, 2024

By Amber Crooks, Environmental Policy Manager

Over 100 cities and counties across the state of Florida have passed strong local protections aimed at reducing nutrient pollution from the misapplication of lawn fertilizers. Fertilizers used to keep our lawns green have the same effect on algae species in our waterways – they help them grow.

Excess nutrients in the water can have catastrophic effects on our water quality, intensifying algal blooms. This can result in fish kills, loss of seagrasses and other submerged vegetation, and harm to fish and wildlife.

Once nutrient pollution is in the water it is costly to remove, thus prevention is key! Cost estimates for removing just one pound of nitrogen from stormwater can be $55-$100 per pound. Further, a recent study commissioned by the Conservancy and our partners found that a significant harmful algal bloom event like southwest Florida has experienced in the past could have devastating economic impacts to the coastal economy.

Despite prior attempts by the Florida legislature to stymie cost-saving prevention efforts, including a 2023 legislative session provision that temporarily barred local governments from protecting their waters through new or amended fertilizer ordinances (which sunsets July 1), many communities leverage fertilizer ordinances as one easy way to help reduce pollution in our waterways.

Studies determined that the City of Cape Coral’s stringent fertilizer ordinance resulted in a 24% reduction in nitrogen in testing samples. Another study showed Lee County’s strong ordinance had a significant reduction in phosphorous and chlorophyll a, which decreased by 25% and 34% respectively, between pre- and post-ordinance.

While there are many factors that determine overall water quality, fertilizer restrictions are simple practices that do help protect our waters. Turfgrass covers almost 7% of Florida’s surface area, and we all have our part to play in protecting water quality.

Many Southwest Florida ordinances are already in place, with an important rainy season ban to application starting June 1. Fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous should not be applied during tropical weather events, or during the rainy season June 1 through September 30 when frequent rain is anticipated. These events allow fertilizers to be picked up in stormwater runoff or leach more quickly into groundwaters.

While fertilizers are just one part of the water quality puzzle, check your city or county restrictions, speak with your lawn care professionals, and be sure to follow your local rules. You can find out more about smart fertilizing practices here: conservancy.org/water.