University of Florida Extension ServiceUF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:

  February 7, 2008

Quick Links:  New Words  New Rates  New Instructions  Read the Label   References 

Feature Article - for release the week of February 10, 2008

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent


New Rules for Greener Grass  And cleaner Water

While area homeowners are busy keeping up with landscape watering restrictions, lawn fertilization may be the farthest things on their mind.  But a new law took effect this year.  It will have considerable impact on the kinds of fertilizer products that are available for the home lawns. 

Turf Fertilizer bagBy July 2009, all consumer fertilizers sold for Florida lawns will have to comply with new bag labeling guidelines.  The law also limits the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that can contained in home lawn care products.  And, the law calls for new label instructions that will help consumers keep their Florida Yards green while limiting the chances that nutrients will escape to our lakes, rivers canals and ponds.    

This new law came from efforts to limit the amount of nutrient runoff going into Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.  Regulators soon discovered that what works best of our backyard also will benefit all Floridians, so new state-wide regulations were approved last year.  The rules are based on sound science, the same kind of backup that the University of Florida uses when offering recommendations through the Florida Yards & Neighborhood program. 


New meanings for old words

New rules often re-define familiar terms to clarify how new regulations are to take effect.  

*       “Urban Turf” or “Lawns” – non-agricultural land planted in closely mowed, managed lawn grasses.  These areas are different from “Sports Turf” – non-agricultural land planted exclusively for recreational uses, such as golf courses, parks and athletic fields.

*        “No Phosphate Fertilizer” – fertilizer products with phosphate levels below 0.5% intended for established urban turf or lawns.    

*        “Low Phosphate Fertilizer” – fertilizer products intended for new or established urban turf or lawns.  However when the phosphate levels are equal to or above 0.5%, these products shall have use directions so that they do not exceed 0.25lbs of P2O5 per 1000 sq. ft. of lawns. 

*       “Starter Fertilizer” – these are fertilizers formulated for a one-time application at planting time (or near that time).  They are used to encourage initial root growth and help grasses or other landscape plants get established.  

*        “New Urban Turf” – turf established less than 12 months. “Established Urban Turf” – is urban turf older than 12 months.


 How much can I use?

The rule requires that specific guidelines for N and P application rates be followed.  Any retail fertilizer sold for urban lawn use will have directions for use in the bag that will state these requirements.  The rates allowed follow University of Florida guidelines for maintenance of healthy lawns.

If a fertilizer is being sold as a "slow-release nitrogen" fertilizer, then it can be applied at 1 pound of N per 1,000 square feet of lawn.  If there is no slow-release N in the fertilizer, then it can only be applied at 0.7 pounds of N per 1,000 square feet.  Most of the retail fertilizers sold for use on urban lawns have slow-release N in them.  Ask us for annual nitrogen fertilizer rates for locally used turfgrasses. (see chart  - click here)  Examples of how many pounds of fertilizer to apply per 1,000 square feet are also available. (Also see Table 2 below)

Application of phosphorus is now limited to 0.25 pounds of P2O5 per 1,000 square feet for any single application.  No more than 0.50 pounds of P2O5 per 1,000 square feet can be applied in a year.  This means that you may see more "no-phosphate" or "low-phosphate" fertilizers in garden centers.  Fertilizers that have a high ratio of P to N may not be able to be used more than twice a year in order to not exceed these rates.


A couple of exceptions

Newly planted lawns may use a starter fertilizer that contains higher P for up to one year after planting to encourage establishment.  The directions for use of these fertilizers will limit P applications to no more than 1.0 pound of P2O5 per 1,000 square feet and are intended for one time use only.

If your soil tests low for plant-available P, it is permissible to apply more P.  Note that most Florida soils have ample plant-available P and the majority of lawns will not be adversely affected by this limitation. Check with our Extension office if you need a soil test.

There will also be some other changes to the labels of urban turf fertilizers. The front of the bag will tell the area to be covered by that fertilizer bag.  Other statements will also remind users to apply the product with care: "Do not apply near water, storm drains, or drainage ditches. Do not apply if heavy rain is expected. Apply this product only to your lawn or garden, and sweep any product that lands on the driveway, sidewalk, or street back onto your lawn or garden."


Read the Label

Fertilizer manufacturers are stepping up to the plate with new formulations and labels that will meet these requirements.  It will be up to the homeowner to carefully read and follow these labeled directions. 

This is much like the ways that consumer pesticides are regulated – the label is the law.  However, pesticide laws are mandated by US laws, but the new Florida Fertilizer Law is established by our own state to insure that nutrients intended for lawns stay on the grass.

I recently stopped by some of our area garden centers to see if any of the new product labels have appeared.  They have not.   The old bags are still in the streams of commerce, and will gradually be replaced to reflect these new regulations.  If you have concerns about how to use any lawn and garden product, feel free to contact our office for assistance.

And, area nurseries would love to sell you some products for your Florida yard, be it fertilizers, tropical accents for the patio, or even replacement trees or shrubs.  They asked me to remind you that current watering restrictions have exemptions for newly installed plants. 

I’ve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page,  If you need additional information on the new Florida Fertilizer Rule, please email us at or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  GO GATORS!    


Trade  names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Larry A.  Arrington, Dean. Last update: 02/07/2008.  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert  


Dubberly, Dale.  Urban Turf Fertilizer Rule. Tallahassee: FDACS, 8/17/07. [3 page fact sheet.]

Pittman, Craig.  “Florida may go green through fertilizer limits.”   St. Petersburg Times, March 29, 2007.

Trenholm, Laurie E.  Urban Turf Fertilizer Rule for Home Lawn Fertilization  [ENH-1089].  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, January 2008.

Williams, Sarah. New Fertilizer Rule Will Protect Florida’s Water Quality [DEP/ SFWMD News release]  Tallahassee: FDEP, 8/30/07.

Final adopted Rule: