Fertilizer ban will go into effect for Hillsborough County residents to improve water quality

A new fertilizer ban in Hillsborough County goes into effect next week. It is the latest county here in the region to crack down on nutrient pollution leaking into Tampa Bay.

The same thing that can fuel growth in your yard can also help algae grow in the water. Large blooms of red tide have caused massive fish kills in Tampa Bay, and algae blooms on the east coast have killed off seagrass, contributing to a record number of manatee deaths last year.

There is a link between what is being used on people’s lawns and the nutrients seeping into the waterways through stormwater.

"Fertilizer use isn't inherently bad. The improper use of fertilizer is where issues come up," said Kate Kaste, Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program Coordinator with the University of Florida IFAS extension office for Pasco County.

READ: Keep Pasco Beautiful: Tips on environmentally-safe fertilizer use during rainy season

All eight counties in the Tampa Bay region have fertilizer ordinances on the books. In Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota counties use of landscape fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus cannot be applied from June 1 through September 30.  In Hernando County, the ban runs from January 1 through March 31, and Pasco County has year-round rules to never apply fertilizer before it rains.

"When the rain falls, it actually will collect the fertilizer that's on your lawn. And since it's raining so significantly and frequently in the summer, it collects that nutrients and transports that directly into Tampa Bay," explained Sheila Scolaro with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

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She says nitrogen is the number one pollutant in Tampa Bay. What you do on your property counts, no matter how small or far from the water you live.

Experts say you can have a beautiful landscape here in the Sunshine State and use less water, pesticides, and fertilizer.

"We ask people to kind of take a different mindset and have turf grass that you need in your yard, but be open-minded to making some, some other landscape choices besides just a field of grass," Kaste said.

"At the end of the day, we all moved here to play on Tampa Bay, not to spend our time working on our lawns," said Scolaro.

Violators of these fertilizer ordinances can face fines and other penalties in some counties; make sure to check the rules where you live.