By B.J. Jarvis
Each fall, many Floridians replace their lawn or fill in bare spots. Often residents are confused about if they need to fertilize when sod is laid. Calls to the Extension Service are answered with “not yet.”
University of Florida researchers tested sod to find out if appearance or health were improved by fertilizing at the time of sod installation. Test plot results showed sod with no fertilization applied at time of installation was just as green and lush as sod that wasn’t fertilized until a month later.
There were differences though. The biggest was the immediately fertilized sod lost twice as much of the nitrogen to run off or leaching compared to fertilizing a month later. Applying fertilizer before roots anchor turf in surrounding soil allowed a far greater quantity of fertilizer to be lost.
Nitrogen can run off into swales or ponds or can move down through the soil to the Floridian aquifer, the source of the majority of our drinking water. Once there, nitrogen feeds algae that suck oxygen from fish, kills off other beneficial organisms and frequently causes a foul smell. Functioning waterways are used for recreation such as fishing and boating, but are impacted by too much fertilizer.
It is important that we all protect these water resources. Here are other ways we can provide protection while assuring a high quality landscape:
–Never apply fertilizer close to pavement or right up to water’s edge.
–Leave clippings on the lawn or compost yard waste to use as a great soil amendment.
–Always follow label directions for the amount and frequency of fertilizer application.
–Abundant watering will cause the nutrients to move away from the root zone, wasting your time, money and potentially damaging our environment.
A final tip to keep fertilizer where it’s needed is to use one that has at least 1/3 to 1/2 of the nitrogen in a slow-release form. Fertilizers with a higher percentage in a slow-release formula are fine too; it’s just more expensive. Slow-release fertilizers are encased to prevent the fertilizer from immediately becoming available to the plant. Each time it rains or the irrigation system runs, little bits of fertilizer escape through small pores providing measured amounts of fertilizer over a long period of time. This approach prevents burn from overdoses, and from an economic point of view, it keeps fertilizer in your landscape saving gardeners money also.
For a healthy turf, Floridians should not fertilize immediately upon installation of sod or plugs. To save money and the environment, wait at least one month before fertilizing.
For more information about fertilizing turf, visit the University of Florida’s turf website at Hort.ifas.ufl.edu/YourFloridaLawn. Or contact your Pasco Extension Service at www.Pasco.ifas.ufl.edu.
-B.J. Jarvis is Horticulture Agent and Extension Director for Pasco Cooperative Extension Service, a free service of Pasco County and the University of Florida. B.J. can be reached at .