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Fertilizer-Free Landscaping

From left to right, Maya Greven, Mark Kateli, and Shelby Theisen, after planting all morning. 
Photo courtesy of Ben Hastings.
From left to right, Maya Greven, Mark Kateli, and Shelby Theisen, after planting all morning. Photo courtesy of Ben Hastings.

By Shelby Theisen, Development Coordinator

Fertilizer use in Florida has a significant impact on water quality and seagrass health. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen (found in fertilizers) make their way into bodies of water primarily through runoff and leaching. These nutrients accumulate in excess in the water, called eutrophication, which leads to oxygen depletion, algal blooms, and the growth of invasive aquatic plants. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the main nutrients found in fertilizers and are also the most harmful to bodies of water.

What can you do to help?

The only way to keep fertilizer from entering waterways completely is to eliminate its use altogether. By accepting some minor imperfections in your yard throughout the changing seasons, you can still have a beautiful lawn without the fertilizer. If you still plan to fertilize your lawn and plants, there are a few things you can do to reduce harm to the environment.

Start by getting a soil test kit to see what nutrients the soil may be lacking. You can acquire one at most home improvement stores or online. Aim to reduce your fertilizer use to only what is necessary, and be mindful not to use fertilizer near bodies of water or shortly before rainfall. Make sure any fertilizer you use is slow-release and contains little to no nitrogen or phosphorus. These small steps can help reduce the negative impacts of fertilizers.

Incorporating native plants into your landscape is also a great way to reduce your need for fertilizers, while still maintaining aesthetics. Native plants are hardy, require less water, support local wildlife, and thrive in Florida’s naturally sandy soil. Native landscaping can help you become 100% fertilizer-free.
If you have questions about native landscaping, we encourage you to contact local chapters of the Florida Native Plant Society or similar organizations.

What is Save the Manatee Club doing?

To be more sustainable as an organization, we are in the process of transforming the grass lawn at our new office into a nearly 100% native landscape. We have made great progress working in partnership with Save the Manatee Club (SMC) supporter and landscape designer, Maya Greven, and the Cuplet Fern Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS).

On Saturday, April 27, SMC staff, alongside a dedicated group of volunteers, installed over 50 native plants. Native plants play a key role in allowing us to go Fertilizer-Free for Manatees. With our building located near the Wekiva River system, we want to be especially mindful of our impact on the vulnerable watershed. Limiting irrigation needs and eliminating fertilizer application significantly reduces the amount of nutrients entering the watershed.

If you would like to contribute to this project, contact Shelby at donate@savethemanatee.org. Support comes in many forms and is not limited to monetary contributions. The majority of phase one of this project was made possible through gift-in-kind donations, volunteers, and sharing knowledge on native plants. A special thank you to Maya, local supporter and plant expert, and Mark from the Cuplet Fern chapter of FNPS who together donated an abundance of time, skill, and plants to this project.

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