Choose a basic fertilizer that contains slow-release, water-insoluble nitrogen and other essential nutrients that is environmentally safe and cost-effective alternative. Water insoluble nitrogen fertilizers usually cost more, but fewer applications will be required. Besides, a few dollars can make a big difference in protecting tributaries and the lagoon.

When shopping for fertilizer, you will usually see three numbers (6-6-6, 15-0-15, 16-4-8, and the like) on the front of the bag. The first number refers to the percent of nitrogen (N) content, the second number refers to phosphorus (P) and the third refers to potassium (K). You'll need to read the label more closely to find out if other important nutrients are included.

If possible, the first and third numbers (nitrogen and potassium) should be the same. In many parts of Florida, natural phosphorus-rich soils mean you don't need to spend money on phosphorus in your fertilizer. The middle number should be no more than half the value of the first and third numbers. Recommended blends include 10-5-10, 16-4-8 and 15-0-15. And remember, try to select a fertilizer containing at least 30 percent slow-release, water-insoluble nitrogen. If your garden center does not stock what you are seeking, ask the manager to order it. As demand for appropriate products increases, they'll be easier to find.

Avoid using fertilizers that contain weed killer or insecticide. Such chemicals should be used only as a last resort when other more environmentally-friendly pest control options fail, and they should be used only on affected areas.

Fertilizer is most often required for turf areas that tend to have higher nutritional needs. If the lawn just won't green up, even after a good rain, first try applying chelated iron or iron sulfate instead of a complete fertilizer. An iron deficiency may be causing that less robust color.

Three common types of lawn grasses in Florida are Bahia, St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. Bahia requires the least amount of maintenance, but it is not salt-tolerant. Bahia also is prone to damage by mole crickets. St. Augustine is often used in coastal areas because it is very salt-tolerant, but it requires more fertilizer and water. It also can be prone to pests, such as chinch bugs. Bermuda, which is used on golf-course greens, requires the most fertilizer, pesticides and water, plus careful mowing. Because it requires intensive maintenance, it is not recommended for home landscapes.

When applying fertilizer use a maximum of one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet no more than twice per year (March and September). However, you may be able to use half that amount and achieve excellent results. You can also reduce the risk of nitrate leaching into ground or surface waters by applying one-half pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet four times per year (March, May, September and early November).

For more information go to:
A Guide to Environmentally Friendly Landscaping: Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Handbook
Allen Garner, John Stevely, Heidi Smith, Mary Hoppe, Tracy Floyd and Paul Hinchcliff. Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Agriculture Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: May 2001