Lawn Fertilization in Florida: Expert Tips for a Lush, Green Yard

Florida homeowners, are you looking to achieve a beautiful, healthy lawn? We’ve got you covered with all the essential details you need to know about lawn fertilization in the Sunshine State. From the best fertilization schedule to fertilizer bans, unique Florida soil, and pro tips for spreading fertilizer correctly, we’ve got everything you need to maintain a vibrant lawn all year round.

The Correct Lawn Fertilization Schedule in Florida

Timing is everything when it comes to fertilizing your lawn in Florida. The best time to apply fertilizer is during the growing season when your grass needs and can absorb nutrients most efficiently. During the winter months, warm-season grasses go dormant in North and Central Florida and slow their growth in South Florida. Fertilizing during the winter compromises weed control and feeds winter weeds instead of your grass. It’s important to learn more about proper winter lawn care to keep your lawn in top shape.

Here are the recommended months for fertilizing in Florida, based on your location:

Region of Florida First Fertilizer Application Last Fertilizer Application
North Florida March October
Central Florida April November
South Florida May December

To avoid forcing the grass to grow too quickly, wait two weeks after it greens up in the spring before applying the first round of fertilizer for the year.

Pro tips for your Florida fertilization schedule:

  • Wait 30-60 days after planting a new lawn before applying fertilizer to allow the plants to focus on root growth.
  • Avoid fertilizing when heavy rain is forecasted within 24 hours or during flood, storm, or hurricane warnings. Heavy rainfall washes away the fertilizer into storm drains.

Lawn Care in Counties with Fertilizer Ordinances

Many counties and cities in Florida have banned the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers from June to September to protect the local watershed from fertilizer leaching during the wet season. Check the Florida Fertilizer Ordinances app, developed by the University of Florida, to see if there are any fertilizer bans in your city or county.

How to fertilize during a ban in summer:

Apply a slow-release product at the end of May. These products spread low doses of nitrogen over 3 to 4 months. Once the restricted period is over, you can fertilize again.

Nutrients you can apply during a ban in summer:

You can use nitrogen and phosphorus-free summer fertilizer blends that contain iron, manganese, potassium, lime, and other allowed nutrients. Compost is also an option for year-round use. It’s natural, eco-friendly, and excellent for soil health. Always test the soil before applying fertilizer or amendments to ensure these nutrients are needed.

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Floridians Should Test the Soil

Testing your soil before fertilizing is crucial for effective application and avoiding excess. Sampling the soil is easy and takes just a few minutes. You have two options for obtaining a soil test:

  1. Buy a DIY kit online or from a local garden store. These kits provide data in seconds.
  2. Opt for a more precise method by taking or sending a soil sample to your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. They will provide a detailed report with specific fertilizer recommendations for your lawn.

The Best Fertilizer for Florida Lawns

Choosing the right fertilizer is vital for maintaining a healthy Florida lawn. A fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen is the best choice for Florida lawns. It allows the grass to absorb nutrients at its own pace, preventing root burn, excessive growth, and run-off. It’s also required by law.

The amount of slow-release nitrogen required varies by county:

  • For lawn care in Orlando or Miami, look for fertilizer with at least 65% slow-release nitrogen in the total nitrogen amount.
  • For lawn maintenance in Tampa Bay or Jacksonville, homeowners can use a 50% slow-release nitrogen product.

Soil in Florida is different from soil in other states. It has enough phosphorus for plant growth but is deficient in potassium. Therefore, you should look for fertilizers:

  • With little to no phosphorus.
  • Containing an amount of potassium that is at least half of the nitrogen.

However, some soils may become deficient in phosphorus. Signs of phosphorus deficiency include slowed growth, dark green leaf blades, and new leaves with a purple tint. If you suspect a deficiency, take a soil test to check phosphorus levels before treating it.

Pro tips for choosing a fertilizer for Florida lawns:

  • Always buy fertilizers specifically formulated for turf use. Avoid using products meant for flowers or vegetables.
  • Steer clear of country-wide formulas, as they often contain too much phosphorus and not enough potassium. Look for Florida-friendly products.
  • Avoid weed and feed products, as they are rarely effective. Apply nitrogen fertilizer at least one month after using pre-emergent herbicides for the best results.

How Much Nitrogen Does Your Grass Need?

Nitrogen is the key nutrient used to calculate fertilizer quantities. Each type of grass in Florida has different nitrogen needs based on its growth rate:

  • Centipedegrass is the most low-maintenance warm-season grass, requiring up to 3 pounds of nitrogen per year per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn.
  • Bermudagrass is the most demanding grass, requiring up to 6 pounds of nitrogen per year per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn (less if it grows in partial shade).

Here are the recommended annual nitrogen amounts per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn for the most common Florida turfgrasses:

Type of Grass Recommended for North Florida Recommended for Central Florida Recommended for South Florida
Zoysiagrass 1.5 – 2 lbs. 2 – 3 lbs. 2 – 3 lbs.
St. Augustinegrass 3 – 4 lbs. 4 – 5 lbs. 4 – 5 lbs.
Bahiagrass 2 – 2.5 lbs. 2.5 – 3.5 lbs. 2.5 – 3.5 lbs.
Centipedegrass 1 – 1.5 lbs. 1.5 – 2 lbs. 1.5 – 2 lbs.
Bermudagrass (full sun) 4 – 5 lbs. 5 – 6 lbs. 5 – 6 lbs.
Bermudagrass (partial shade) 2.5 – 3.5 lbs. 3 – 4.5 lbs. 3 – 4.5 lbs.
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Excess nitrogen makes the grass vulnerable to fungal diseases and compromises its resistance to common pests. According to Florida regulations, 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 nitrogen amounts for your type of grass into multiple applications.

For example, if you decide to apply 3 pounds per year per 1000 sq. ft. of Zoysiagrass in three sessions, you can spread:

  • 1 pound of nitrogen in April
  • 1 pound of nitrogen in June or July
  • 1 pound of nitrogen in September or October

Calculate the Fertilizer Amount in Three Steps

After determining the desired amount of nitrogen to apply, it’s important to calculate the exact amount of mixed fertilizer to use in your spreader.

To calculate the precise amount, follow these steps:

  1. Measure the area you need to fertilize, excluding walkways or flower beds.
  2. Calculate how much nitrogen you need for the entire area. For example, if you apply 1 pound per 1000 sq. ft. and have a 2500 sq. ft. lawn, you’ll need 2.5 pounds of nitrogen.
  3. Read the product label to determine how much fertilizer you need to spread. For example, if a 14-pound bag of an 8-2-10 fertilizer (8% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, 10% potash) contains 1.12 pounds of nitrogen, you’ll need to spread 31.25 pounds of fertilizer (more than 2 bags) to ensure 2.5 pounds of nitrogen.

Using a fertilizer calculator can be helpful for counties that require 65% slow-release nitrogen fertilizers, such as Orange County.

Pro tips for calculating the amount of fertilizer:

  • Divide your lawn into sections (back, front, side yard) to simplify measurements.
  • Use a measurement app to calculate lawn size more quickly. Popular options include LawnChick’s Lawn Size Calculator, Measure My Lawn, Google Maps, Planimeter, Global Syn-Turf, and My Lawn Size Calculator.

Prepare Your Florida Lawn for Fertilization

To ensure that your lawn can absorb the fertilizer effectively, it’s important to prepare the soil adequately. Here are a few steps to follow for optimal nutrient uptake:

  • Clear your lawn of leaves, twigs, and other debris that may be covering it, especially if there are large shade trees in your yard or nearby.
  • Reduce soil compaction through aeration. Florida’s heavy rain can compact the soil, creating a crust that hinders nutrient absorption.
  • Remove thatch thicker than ¼ inch. Bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass are prone to thatch, and overfertilizing can promote thatch in Centipedegrass.

How to Apply Fertilizer Like a Pro in the Sunshine State

To ensure healthy growth and prevent root burn, it’s crucial to spread the fertilizer evenly across your lawn. The easiest way to achieve this is by using a broadcast spreader. Follow these steps for optimal 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 to the 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.
  7. Turn the spreader on.
  8. Switch directions and spread 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 avoid getting fertilizer on sidewalks or pavement.
  11. Apply ¼ inch of water to clean the granular slow-release fertilizer from the grass blades and help it soak into the soil.
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Pro tips for fertilizing your lawn like a pro:

  • Use a deflector shield to keep fertilizer on the lawn and away from sidewalks and driveways.
  • Create a 15-foot buffer zone between the lawn and any waterfront areas where fertilizer and pesticides should not be applied. Fill this buffer with native Florida plants that can collect excess nutrients from the grass area.
  • If you spill fertilizer on your lawn or driveway, sweep it up rather than rinsing it away.

How to Green a Florida Lawn in the Summer

If your St. Augustine or Bahia lawn turns a light green color in the middle of summer, there’s a better way to revive it than simply applying more nitrogen fertilizer. Instead, you can bring back the deep, dark green color by applying iron, which doesn’t cause excessive grass growth or risk run-off. A yellowing lawn can also indicate an iron or manganese deficiency.

Reducing Fertilizer Needs

Maintaining a healthy and well-maintained lawn can help reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. Here are a few tips:

  • Mow your lawn correctly. Cutting the grass too short or too often can increase its growth rate and nutrient requirements. Follow proper mowing practices to avoid stimulating excessive growth.
  • Use proper irrigation techniques. Excessive watering can lead to shallow root systems and increased nutrient needs. Only water when the grass shows signs of drought and apply ½ to ¾ inches of water per irrigation event.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn. Grass clippings contain slow-release nitrogen and can reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Choose the Right Lawn Care Service

When it comes to your property, it’s essential to choose a lawn care service that follows local fertilization ordinances and regulations. Make sure they are trained and licensed for fertilizer application. Opting for a local lawn care service is ideal since regulations vary from county to county and city to city.

Give Your Florida Lawn the Best Fertilization Year-Round!

Maintaining a healthy, beautiful lawn in Florida involves several factors, from soil composition to weather conditions and local regulations. If you find the details overwhelming, consider hiring a professional lawn care company. LawnStarter can help you find a trusted, local lawn care provider in Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, St. Petersburg, or any other location in the Sunshine State.

Now that you have all the expert tips and tricks for fertilizing your Florida lawn, it’s time to make your neighbors green with envy. Get started on your journey to a lush, green yard today!

Ames Farm Center