Scientist uses special fertilizer to keep palms, soil and water healthy

April 8, 2015 by Brad Buck, University of Florida

A University of Florida scientist has developed a fertilizer for palm trees that should keep them healthy and reduce water pollution.

Environmental horticulture Professor Tim Broschat found that applying a palm fertilizer with no nitrogen or could prevent the harmful effects of lawn fertilizers on .

"We also found that most palms do not need any phosphorus in their fertilizer to be healthy, and by not applying this element, we can eliminate one possible source of in Florida," said Broschat, a faculty member at UF's Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.

Palms have special nutritional needs, including nitrogen and phosphorus, to stay healthy and look their best. But those same nutrients can harm the soil and the below the soil. So, scientists such as Broschat are investigating ways to balance the nutrient needs of palms while preserving water quality.

Broschat conducted his experiment from 2010 to 2013 at the Fort Lauderdale REC, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

During heavy rainfall or irrigation, Florida's soils have very little capacity to retain nitrogen and phosphorus in the area of the soil around the plant that touches the plant's roots.

By using the palm fertilizer with no nitrogen or phosphorus during the rainy summer months and a regular palm fertilizer with these nutrients during other seasons, palms grew as well as when they were fertilized year-round using nitrogen and phosphorous-containing fertilizers, Broschat's study found.

Fertilizer is usually not a pollutant when it's applied to the landscape. But if the wrong kind of fertilizer is applied at the wrong time, it can wash off of the landscape and flow untreated into bays and streams. Broschat's fertilizer finding is critical because a state law limits the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that people can put on their lawns.

Furthermore, some Florida counties do not let people use or phosphorus fertilizers from June through September because they think these could get into waters via storm water runoff and possibly harm coastal .

Although Broschat conducted his experiment on areca palms, popular in Florida, the results should apply to all kinds of palms used in home and commercial landscapes, he said.

Broschat's study is published in the March issue of the journal HortScience.

Explore further: High nitrogen fertilizers tested on post-transplant ornamentals

More information: "Fertilization of Landscape Palms to Reduce Nitrogen and Phosphate Impacts on the Environment." HortScience March 2015 50:469-473. … nt/50/3/469.abstract

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