Fertilizer ordinance passes in Orange County, limits nitrogen

By John W. Davis, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 11:16 PM EDT

Orange County commissioners approved new rules limiting when and how you can fertilize your grass.

  • Ordinance bans nitrogen-based fertilizers through Sept. 30, with exceptions
  • Landscapers, homeowners who complete education seminar can use fertilizers

The updated ordinance is aiming to protect our waterways.

That's because if the nitrogen found in certain fertilizers seeps into springs, rivers and lakes, advocates say the chemical can promote algae growth and cause a decline in water quality.

"It's not a complete ban," said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

Orange County leaders unanimously voted to update their own fertilizer ordinance Tuesday night.  

The goal is to limit the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus near priority springs areas, like Wekiva Springs.

"The reality is I think most homeowners do just err on the side of more is better, and maybe that's changing, but I just think that's kind of human nature," Mayor Jacobs said.

Commissioners approved a blackout period, which states no nitrogen-based fertilizers can be used from June 1 through Sept. 30.

However, there are exceptions.

Commercial landscapers and homeowners who complete a brief online education seminar can use those types of fertilizers during the summer, if they show proof of training.

However, Commissioner Emily Bonilla pointed out that while exceptions call for certification of business owners and home owners, just 250 homeowners have been certified since 2009.

Commissioner Bonilla said she also advocated for more signage on vehicles of fertilizer providers to increase transparency.

"Since you're a large producer and seller, I was wondering what you're doing to educate the public and your customers?" Bonilla said, as she questioned one of the manufacturers of fertilizers who attended the public hearing.

"But I just want to make the point to not underestimate the average homeowner, especially one that would go out of their way to educate themselves, how to properly (apply) on their own property," said Matthew Choy, who works as a Governmental Affairs Specialist For Scotts Miracle-Grow.

"Regardless I think (we should) revisit this in 24 months would be prudent," said Eric Rollins, who serves as the Chairperson for Orange Soil and Water Conservation District.

County leaders believe teaching homeowners how to properly use fertilizer will go a long way in removing the chemical from our waterways.

"Main thing is we want to make sure our environment is here, not just this year to enjoy, but decades and centuries to come," Mayor Jacobs said.

According to Orange County staff, the fertilizer ordinance was passed with five amendments:

  1. No fertilizer containing nitrogen shall be applied unless at least 50 percent of its nitrogen content is slow release. Now this requirement changes to at least 65 percent slow release when the product is readily available in the commercial market by July 2020.
  2. EPD will bring back to the Board after 24 months to provide summary of data collected and evaluate ordinance
  3. Signage about fertilizer restrictions will be in retail establishments selling fertilizer. Signs will be provided by Orange County. (This is similar to what Martin County has done)
  4. Enforcements – EPD will enforce (Code Enforcement will be made aware of enforcement measures as well)
    1. For homeowners:
      1. Warning first
      2. Then $50 fine
      3. Then $100 fine
    2. For businesses:
      1. Warning first
      2. Then $500 fine
      3. Then $750 fine
  5. Certified applicant must show proof of training on all vehicles used during applications.