Fertilizers and Nutrients

One of the most common questions asked by our customers is what kind of fertilizer to use, how to keep their plants healthy when they are away during the summer, and the benefits of using organic vs. inorganic fertilizers. This is a subject that has overwhelming amounts of information available, much of it contradictory

SW Florida soils are unique in that they are generally sandy, alkaline, and very nutrient poor. Add in our heavy summer rains and regular irrigation, and you can imagine how soil amendments and fertilizers leach into groundwater and waterways. Most of us are from “somewhere else” and are used to different soils, nutritional needs, and fertilizers.

Nutrient deficiencies are much more easily prevented than corrected once they occur. The correction of nutrient deficiencies in palm trees can take as long as two to three years for some elements. Florida’s soils have very low capacities to retain these elements in the root zone during periods of heavy rainfall or irrigation.

Fertilizers available at garden departments in national chains are generally sold throughout the country. These products usually have more nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) than are required for our plant needs. Our soils generally have adequate Nitrogen and Phosphorus which are linked to harmful Algae Bloom (think Red Tide). Plants need 16 elements for optimal plant health and success but in amounts specifically formulated for SW FL.

High-quality fertilizers with Polycon and other coatings break-down slowly, usually being effective for up to 90 to 120 days depending on the fertilizer product. Some can last in the soil for 6 months or more.  This ensures that plants will absorb what they need and when. These products are called slow or controlled-release.

Soluble fertilizers are another way to apply nutrients. These are mixed with water and sprayed on foliage or used as a root drench. Soluble fertilizers can be useful in containers, as a root starter, or for bedding plants. However, a water-soluble fertilizer applied one day could be completely leached out of the root zone the next day by rainfall or irrigation.

We use and recommend Nurseryman’s Sure-gro nutritional products. Their 8-2-12 Palm fertilizer was developed in conjunction with an internationally known palm expert at the Univ of Florida.   This palm fertilizer can be used effectively for ALL plants which makes life a little simpler for homeowners. You can visit their website for more information at www.sure-gro.net. We recommend a fertilizer schedule of February, May, August, and October.

Sure-gro makes several other types of fertilizers. We use their 12-4-12 Palm fertilizer in our gardens which provides slightly higher-levels of acidity to the soil. This is great for gardens with acid-loving plants such as Gardenia, Ixora, Magnolia, Cordyline (ti plants), Hibiscus, Roses, Azalea and others, but can be used on all plants. Their Bedding, Bougainvillea, Rose, and All Purpose fertilizers are also very effective and popular with our customers.

Lee County has an ordinance banning the use of fertilizers containing any nitrogen or phosphorus from June 1 to Oct 1st. Most fertilizer run-off is due to the use of inexpensive turf and garden fertilizers usually containing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. They break down quickly particularly in the rainy summer months and endanger the health of our waterways.

Peggy Green has introduced cost-effective, coated fertilizers for turfgrass and other plants. These are   0 – 0 – 12 (no nitrogen and phosphorus) products which conform to the ordinance, and are effective for up to 90 days.   Peggy green also makes very effective organic fertilizers for tomatoes and other vegetables. You can visit their website at www.peggygreen.com.

Organic vs. inorganic. This is an immensely confusing subject, and those visiting various websites on this topic will usually leave dazed and confused. Terms like natural, organic, chemical, synthetic, artificial, manufactured, etc., are freely thrown around on labels and by gardeners. The terms can be reduced to organic or chemical. The term defining organic in fertilizer is NOT the same as the standards used in processing for food.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using either of these types of products and we suggest that you take a look at this informative article. In general, we recommend the use of chemical fertilizers for turf, palms and other plants and trees, since users will have specific information about the type of nutrients and the amount to apply. Cow manure for example, is often used as an organic fertilizer. Manure is high in nitrogen (1st number on fertilizer label), and can break down quickly into our groundwater. Florida is a major source of phosphates and our soil requires very little phosphorus (2nd number). Organic fertilizers are sometimes combined with the use of chemical fertilizers.

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