The Ultimate Guide to Lawn Fertilization in Florida

If you’re a homeowner in Florida, you probably already know that the best time to fertilize your lawn is during the warmer months when the grass is actively growing. But there’s more to it than just timing. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the lawn fertilization schedule in Florida, including fertilizer bans, the unique Florida soil, the best fertilizers for the Sunshine State, and pro tips to maintain a green and healthy lawn all year round.

1. The Correct Lawn Fertilization Schedule in Florida

To achieve the best results, it’s important to apply fertilizer during the growing season when the grass can absorb nutrients most effectively. In Florida, warm-season grasses go dormant during the winter months in North and Central Florida, and slow their growth in South Florida. Fertilizing during the winter can compromise weed control and feed winter weeds instead of your grass. So, it’s best to wait until the grass greens up in the spring before applying the first round of fertilizer. Here are the recommended months to fertilize in Florida based on your location:

Region of Florida First Fertilizer Application Last Fertilizer Application
North Florida April September
Central Florida March October
South Florida February November

It’s important to note that before applying fertilizer, you should wait 30-60 days after planting a new lawn to allow the plants to focus on root growth. Additionally, avoid fertilizing when heavy rain is forecasted within 24 hours or during flood, storm, or hurricane warnings, as heavy rainfall can wash away fertilizer into storm drains.

2. Lawn Care in Counties with Fertilizer Ordinances

Many counties and cities in Florida have fertilizer bans in place from June to September to protect the local watershed from fertilizer leaching during the wet season. To navigate these bans, you can apply a slow-release fertilizer in late spring (end of May) that spreads low doses of nitrogen over 3 to 4 months. Once the restricted period is over, you can fertilize again. Additionally, you can use nitrogen and phosphorus-free summer fertilizer blends that contain other allowed nutrients like iron, manganese, potassium, and lime. Compost is also a great option for year-round use as it is natural, eco-friendly, and excellent for soil health. Before applying any fertilizer or amendments, it’s always a good idea to test the soil to determine if these nutrients are needed.

3. Floridians Should Test the Soil

Testing the soil before fertilizing your lawn is essential for effective fertilizer application and avoiding excess. You have two options for soil testing:

  • Buy a DIY kit online or from a local garden store for quick results.
  • Take or send a soil sample to your local UF/IFAS Extension Office for more precise testing and detailed recommendations on fertilizing your lawn.

4. The Best Fertilizer for Florida Lawns

In Florida, a fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen is highly recommended for lawns. Slow-release nitrogen allows the grass to absorb nutrients at its own pace and prevents root burn, excessive growth, and runoff. It’s also required by law. The amount of slow-release nitrogen required varies by county:

  • If you’re in Orlando or Miami, look for fertilizer with at least 65% slow-release nitrogen in the total amount of nitrogen.
  • For lawn maintenance in Tampa Bay or Jacksonville, a 50% slow-release nitrogen product is sufficient.

Florida soil has enough phosphorus for plant growth but is deficient in potassium. Therefore, it’s important to choose fertilizers with little to no phosphorus and an amount of potassium that is at least half of the nitrogen. However, some soils in Florida can become deficient in phosphorus, so it’s essential to check phosphorus levels through a soil test before treating any deficiency.

When choosing a fertilizer for your Florida lawn, always buy products specifically formulated for turf use and avoid country-wide formulas that may have too much phosphorus. Additionally, weed and feed products are generally ineffective, and nitrogen fertilizer should be applied at least one month after pre-emergent herbicides for the best results.

5. How Much Nitrogen Does Your Grass Need?

Nitrogen is the primary nutrient used to calculate fertilizer quantities. Different types of grass in Florida have varying nitrogen needs based on their growth rate. Here are the recommended annual nitrogen amounts per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn for the most common Florida turfgrasses:

Type of Grass Recommended Nitrogen (North Florida) Recommended Nitrogen (Central Florida) Recommended Nitrogen (South Florida)
St. Augustinegrass 2-4 lbs 3-5 lbs 2-4 lbs
Bahiagrass 2-4 lbs 2-4 lbs 2-4 lbs
Bermudagrass 2-4 lbs 3-6 lbs 5-8 lbs
Zoysiagrass 2-4 lbs 3-5 lbs 4-6 lbs
Centipedegrass 1-2 lbs 1-2 lbs 1-2 lbs

Applying excess nitrogen can make the grass vulnerable to fungal diseases and compromise its resistance to pests. According to Florida Regulation (5E-1.003), the maximum amount of nitrogen you can apply per 1000 square feet per application is 1 pound. To follow this rule, split the recommended annual amounts for your type of grass into multiple applications throughout the year.

6. Calculate the Fertilizer Amount in Three Steps

To calculate the precise amount of fertilizer to use, follow these three steps:

  1. Measure the area of your lawn that needs fertilization.
  2. Calculate how much nitrogen you need for the entire area by multiplying the recommended nitrogen amount per 1000 sq. ft. by the total area of your lawn.
  3. Read the product label to determine how much fertilizer you need to spread based on the amount of nitrogen it contains. Ensure you’re spreading the correct amount of fertilizer to provide the necessary nitrogen for your lawn.

You can use online fertilizer calculators or apps to simplify this process. Additionally, dividing your lawn into sections and using lawn size measurement apps can help make measurements more manageable.

7. Prepare Your Florida Lawn for Fertilization

Preparing your lawn before fertilization is crucial for optimal nutrient uptake. Here are some essential steps to take:

  • Clear the lawn of leaves, twigs, and other debris that may cover the grass, especially if you have large shade trees nearby.
  • Reduce soil compaction through soil aeration, as heavy rainfall in Florida can create a crust that hinders nutrient absorption.
  • Remove thatch that is thicker than ¼ inch, as certain grasses in Florida are prone to thatch buildup.

8. How to Apply Fertilizer Like a Pro in the Sunshine State

To ensure healthy growth and avoid root burn, it’s important to spread fertilizer uniformly across your lawn. Using a broadcast spreader is the easiest way to achieve this. Follow these steps for proper fertilizer application:

  1. Read the instructions on the fertilizer label and set the spreader accordingly.
  2. Split the fertilizer amount in half.
  3. Add one half of the fertilizer to the spreader hopper.
  4. Run the spreader back and forth across the width of the lawn.
  5. Turn the spreader off.
  6. Add the other half of the fertilizer to the hopper.
  7. Turn the spreader on.
  8. Switch directions and spread the fertilizer along the length of the lawn, perpendicular to the first application.
  9. Turn the spreader off.
  10. Clean the spreader on the grass to prevent fertilizer from getting on sidewalks or pavement.
  11. Apply 1/4 inch of water to clean the granular slow-release fertilizer from the grass blades and help it soak into the soil.

To further improve application accuracy, you can use a deflector shield to keep fertilizer on the lawn and away from sidewalks and driveways. Creating a buffer area between the lawn and a waterfront is also recommended to protect water bodies from excess nutrients. Use native plants that thrive without extra feeding in this buffer area. If you accidentally spill fertilizer on your lawn or driveway, be sure to sweep it up rather than rinsing it away.

9. How to Green a Florida Lawn in the Summer

If your St. Augustine or Bahia lawn turns a light green color during the summer, applying iron can help restore its dark green color without excessive growth or runoff. A yellowing lawn can also indicate an iron or manganese deficiency.

10. Reducing Fertilizer Needs

Maintaining a healthy lawn with proper mowing and irrigation practices can significantly reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. Cutting the grass too short or too frequently can intensify its growth rate and increase the need for nutrients and water. Proper irrigation is also crucial, as excessive watering leads to shallow root systems and higher fertilizer requirements. To minimize fertilizer use, leave grass clippings on the lawn as they provide a slow-release nitrogen source.

11. Choose the Right Lawn Care Service

When it comes to your lawn, it’s essential to work with lawn care professionals who follow local fertilizing ordinances and regulations. Make sure they are properly trained and licensed for fertilizer application. Choosing a local lawn care service is ideal as regulations can vary from county to county and city to city.

Conclusion

Fertilizing your lawn in Florida requires careful consideration of timing, fertilizer choice, and application techniques. By following the correct fertilization schedule, testing your soil, using the right amount of nutrients, and maintaining a healthy lawn, you can enjoy a lush and vibrant lawn all year round. Remember to choose the best fertilizer for your specific grass type and always adhere to local regulations and guidelines. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a green and healthy lawn in the Sunshine State!