Backyard vanguard sprouting at LWR

LAKEWOOD RANCH — With the connection between over-fertilized backyards and nearby algae-choked water bodies becoming undeniable, Sarasota County recently enacted its first rules regarding fertilizing to the edge of water bodies.

Manatee County doesn’t have such restrictions yet.

But Lakewood Ranch may soon become the first Manatee County community whose homeowner associations have adopted water’s edge fertilizer rules on their own, said Michelle Atkinson, a Florida Yards and Neighborhoods representative in the Manatee County Extension Office in Palmetto.

“I don’t know any community that has done this yet in Manatee County,” Atkinson said Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s workshops at Town Hall, Ryan Heise, Lakewood Ranch operations director, announced that the Ranch has been awarded two grants totaling $7,500 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscapers Association to undertake a project on Lake Uihlein.

The University of Florida’s Center for Landscape Conservation & Ecology and the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program at the Extension Office are setting up focus groups with interested Lakewood Ranch residents to explore alternatives, like grasses and flowers, to running turf all the way to the water’s edge.

A resident advisory board will give the scientists input on their concerns and the scientists will help guide their decisions, Heise said.

Heise plans to take an exposed bank on Lake Uihlein right behind Town Hall to use as a demonstration area to show water’s edge alternatives with plants like blue flag iris, duck potato, golden canna and pickerelweed.

Planting by the water’s edge makes for cleaner and clearer water in the lakes because the plants absorb excess nutrients from fertilizers and shade shallow areas from sunlight, hence decreasing algae growth, Heise said.

To get homeowners to plant by the water’s edge is a bit of challenge, said Paul Monaghan, an assistant UF professor who is involved with the project.

Some residents are concerned about blocking their lake view or their neighbors. Others fear that mosquitoes, snakes, bugs and alligators will makes homes in the new vegetation.

Residents interested in joining a focus group on water’s edge awareness are asked to call Monaghan at (352) 392-0502, ext. 22, Michelle Atkinson at 722-4524, ext. 256, or Brenda Noellert at 907-0202, ext. 236.