All Sanibel residents must abide by environmentally friendly fertilizer regulations. But you can do even more to help protect our local water quality by going fertilizer-free. In the Caloosahatchee region, the sale of residential fertilizer increased 62 percent between 2003 and 2006. Fertilizer contributes unwanted nutrients to our waters, harming wildlife and fueling algae blooms.
Not only is going fertilizer-free good for our environment, it can also improve the health of your landscape. Using fertilizer correctly can be quite complicated, and fertilizers can be detrimental to your yard when they are overused or misused.
Some problems associated with improper fertilizer use include infestations of pests, overgrowth, "luxury" growth of plant material that is less resistant to stress, a "burned" or damaged landscape, and chemical imbalances in the soil that damage other plants.
Many Sanibel residents have gone fertilizer-free with beautiful results. This page of quick tips and other resources will help you do the same.
Creating Your Landscape
Make the Most of Your Yard - Back to the top
Knowing your yard well will make your plan to go fertilizer-free more successful. Spend some time noting what type of sun exposure you have and how much moisture is retained by different parts of your landscape. You may conduct soil tests in different areas to determine which have the highest levels of naturally occurring nutrients. For example, much of the soil on Sanibel has high levels of phosphorus. Soil tests are simple and inexpensive. Contact the Lee County Extension Office for additional information or to obtain a soil testing kit, (239) 533-4327.
Once you have made some notes about your yard, you may wish to develop a site plan that maps the different areas and their attributes. This map could be helpful as you choose the right plants for your fertilizer-free landscape. Floridayards.org provides an interactive online program to help you assess and design your landscape.
If you do some redesigning of your landscape, consider how much grass or turf is appropriate for you and for the environment. St. Augustine grass, the most widely used lawn grass in Florida, demands more inputs than any other element of our landscapes. It requires frequent supplemental irrigation, significant amounts of fertilizer, and in most cases, regular pesticide applications. Other grass species, such as Bahia grass or Centipede grass, have better drought tolerance and require less fertilizer. Although these grasses will turn brown during a drought, they are more likely to resume growth and turn green when enough water is applied.
You can even consider replacing sod with native groundcovers. Planted and mulched areas require significantly less water than grass. They are also easier to fertilize with natural materials like compost.
Choose the Right Plants - Back to the top
Native plants have adapted to local conditions over thousands of years. When planted in the right location, they are ready and able to thrive here without too much involvement from us. As a bonus, they'll need less water than non-native plants, too.
The City of Sanibel has developed an extensive list of horticulturally available native plants. This list is organized by plant type (i.e. trees, shrubs, groundcovers) and provides useful information including how tall the plant will grow, the habitat in which it should be planted, the plant's tolerance to salt and frost, and it's water requirements.
To view the City's list of natives with links to photos, click here (requires Microsoft Excel). For a printer friendly list without photo links, click here (requires Adobe Acrobat reader).
The Institute for Regional Conservation publishes a similar list online, which you can search by zip code. This list is handy because it lets you know which plants are commonly available at local garden stores and which plants you may need to visit a specialized native plant nursery to find.The site also has great photos of native plants as well as information about the nutrient requirements of each plant.
Avoid the Wrong Plants - Back to the top
Most non-native, or exotic, plants require more water and fertilizer than their native counterparts. In addition, some exotic plant species have the ability to act like weeds, spreading extensively on their own, displacing native plants and wildlife, and disrupting natural ecological processes. These invasive exotics or exotic pest plants don't have the natural enemies here that controlled their growth in their home range. This can free them to spread easily into our native plant communities.
In an effort to control the "worst offenders" on Sanibel, it is illegal to grow, plant or transplant, the eight species listed below:
Although not listed by the City, the Australian pine (Casuarina spp.) is designated as an invasive exotic species by the State of Florida and may not be sold or planted within the state boundaries.
- Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthefolius)
- Melaleuca/Punk tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia)
- Earleaf acacia (Acacia auriculiformis)
- Java plum (Syzygium cumini)
- Scaevola/Exotic inkberry (Scaevola taccada = S. frutescens, S. sericea)
- Lead tree (Leucaena leucocephala)
- Mother-in-law's tongue/Bowstring hemp (Sansevieria hyacinthoides)
- Air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera)
Click here to view Sanibel's "The Alien Invasion" brochure.
In addition to the City's list of "worst offenders", the Sanibel Code also prohibits the planting of any invasive exotic vegetation as identified by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) including, but not limited to:
Cuban laurel/Laurel fig
|Wandering Jew |
To view others, follow this link to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. The Florida Native Plant Society also maintains lists of native plants and invasive species.
Create a Florida Yard - Back to the top
For those who want to go the extra mile, consider having your landscape officially recognized as a Certified Florida Yard. This designation recognizes landscapes that follow the principles of the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program, like using the right plant in the right place, fertilizing appropriately and using water conserving procedures. For a yard to become a Certified Florida Yard, the homeowner is asked to complete a questionnaire. A team of two yard advisors then visits the yard and completes a checklist. If all necessary criteria are met, the homeowner is awarded a "Certified Florida Yard" sign for their yard.
No fertilizer is required
for this garden.
Caring for Your Landscape
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Going fertilizer-free doesn't mean that you stop caring for your plants. A common misconception about plant care is that plants require fertilizer. Plants need nutrients, but they might not need added fertilizer. Instead, try the methods below to supply your landscape with the nutrients it needs.
If you have a plant or landscape problem, don't assume that more nitrogen is the answer. In many cases, poor plant health is the result of inadequate secondary or micronutrients, such as magnesium and manganese, not primary nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Professionals at your local nursery or the Lee County Extension can suggest other nutrients that could improve the health of your landscape or specific plants. For example, instead of applying nitrogen fertilizer to a yellow or brownish lawn, adding iron may be all you need to restore a healthy green color.
Leave Grass Clippings on Your Lawn
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As you mow, save time and effort by leaving the grass clippings on the lawn to decompose. These clippings are rich in the nutrients your grass needs most. The nutrients will be naturally recycled, feeding your grass. Be certain that you are mowing frequently enough that the clippings are not excessively long. Too much material left on the lawn could cause other problems. Grass clippings on your driveway, sidewalk or roadway should be swept or blown back onto your yard.
Use Natural Materials to Mulch - Back to the top
Organic mulches will not only enhance the look of a garden, but also offer a number of other benefits. Mulches help to moderate the soil temperature and hold moisture in during dry weather. This reduces the need to water. Mulch also improves soil fertility as it decomposes and reduces growth of weeds that compete with your landscape plants for nutrients.
When buying mulch, look for mulch made of melaleuca. The melaleuca tree was originally planted by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers around the edges of the Everglades in the early 1920s as a way of drying the "swamps". This tree has become a pest because it proliferates at an enormous rate and outcompetes native vegetation. By using melaleuca mulch, you can contribute to the elimination of this invasive exotic plant. If melaleuca mulch is unavailable, pine bark is another good choice. Do not use cypress mulch. The unique cypress forest serves an important ecological role in Florida. Cypress woods were cut for lumber decades ago and much of the old cypress forests are gone.
Create and Use Compost - Back to the top
Compost is a collection of yard waste and kitchen scraps (no animal products) allowed to degrade over time, ultimately forming a natural source of slow-release fertilizer. It is a great way to supply key nutrients to your plants. Composting is also good for the environment because your recycled material will not require landfill space. Composting involves using an outside bin to store recyclable yard and kitchen waste. Place the material in the bin and then turn it periodically so it decomposes. When the material reaches a point where it has a uniform soil-type look, it is ready to use. Click here for more information about composting in Florida.
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The City of Sanibel Department of Natural Resources List of Native Plants
Lee County Extension Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program
The Institute for Regional Conservation
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council
The Florida Native Plant Society
South Florida Water Management District
The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants