a dock with algae growing in the water
Excessive nutrients in the water, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, can lead to disproportionate algae blooms. UF/IFAS.

The Green Industries Best Management Practices (GI-BMP) training aims to preserve Florida’s water resources by educating on methods to reduce pollutants such as hydrocarbons, pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and heavy metals. This training is crucial for the Keys, where land and marine ecosystems converge, necessitating careful management to maintain ecological balance.

The training program aims to:

  • Educate landscapers, groundskeepers, municipal personnel, and interested citizens on reducing non-point source pollution.
  • Implement integrated pest management techniques to minimize pollution from diffuse sources.
  • Promote efficient water use through efficient irrigation techniques, recycling and reuse, and drought-resistant landscaping.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified stormwater polluted runoff as Florida’s primary water quality issue. Addressing this is vital for protecting marine habitats and reducing non-point source pollution, which is challenging to manage due to its multiple origins and contribution to eutrophication.

Eutrophication is caused by the influx of pollutants, leading to an excessive presence of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. This process depletes oxygen levels, harming marine life and disrupting the ecosystem.

In 2021, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners enacted a fertilizer ordinance to combat nutrient pollution from urban landscapes. This ordinance restricts fertilizer use, mandates best management practices, and requires commercial fertilizer applicators to undergo training and certification. The new fertilizer regulation will affect only the unincorporated areas of Monroe County. 

Fertilizer use is restricted in several ways to protect water quality. From May 15 through Oct. 31, no landscape or turf fertilizers are allowed, aligning with the rainy season to prevent nutrient runoff into waterways. Additionally, fertilizer application is prohibited during flood watches, flood warnings, tropical storm watches or warnings, and hurricane watches or warnings, regardless of the time of year.

red and green candies and marshmallows in a bowl
Fertilizers should not be applied to impervious surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, and streets. UF/IFAS.

Fertilizer applications are also banned within 20 feet of any waterway, including surfaces like shorelines, canals and wetlands and structures like seawalls, docks or bulkheads. An exception allows fertilizer application to newly planted turf and landscape plants within this zone for 60 days, starting 30 days after planting.

Specific restrictions include prohibiting liquid fertilizers containing nitrogen, including those intended for foliar application, and fertilizers containing phosphorus unless a soil test indicates a deficiency. Granular fertilizers with nitrogen must contain at least 65% slow-release or water-insoluble nitrogen, with a maximum application of 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet per year.

Fertilizers should not be applied to impervious surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, and streets. Any spills must be immediately cleaned and applied to the landscape or returned to the container. Washing, sweeping, or blowing fertilizer into any surface water, stormwater drains, or fertilizer-free zones is strictly forbidden.

Although these actions are specific to the Monroe County ordinance, some of the points mentioned are illegal for anyone to undertake at any time.

Exemptions to these rules include golf courses and high-impact areas, which follow specific practices outlined in Florida Administrative Code 5E-1.003. Fruit trees and shrubs must be within the University of Florida IFAS maximum recommendations for fertilization. Organic materials such as compost and mulches intended to improve soil condition are also exempt, as are tree trunk injections performed by certified arborists.More details and information about upcoming GI-BMP training in Monroe County are available from Brynn Morey, extension coordinator, at 305-292-4501 or monroe@ifas.ufl.edu.

Maria Quirico
Maria Quirico is the University of Florida, IFAS Monroe County Extension Environmental Horticulture Agent. In this role, she actively promotes the principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ and offers the community essential education, guidance, and resources concerning horticultural and environmental topics.