By Mike Jiggens
By adopting best management practices, landscapers and lawn care practitioners can get the biggest bang for their buck when using fertilizer products and they will also be demonstrating responsible use, customers of Nutrite were told in September at the company’s third annual customer appreciation day in Guelph.
Mike Kehoe of Nutrite professional turf sales said the right product must be used at the right time and in the right place.
“This way you get the best results for your money,” he said.
Kehoe added that because landscapers and lawn care operators are in the public eye, the proper use of fertilizer products on properties under their care will go a long way toward demonstrating their responsible use.
“We are a responsible manufacturer and blender of premium fertilizers, and the BMP (best management practices) approach is pro-active. We want to be seen.”
There have been rumblings in some parts of Canada, including Ontario, that fertilizer products could one day face similar restrictions as those imposed upon pest control products. Kehoe said, with that in mind, it is especially important they be used responsibly.
“We feel that done properly with the right sources of nitrogen that this (responsible use) is easily attainable.”
He recommended soil testing as the first logical step on customers’ properties. Soil analysis will take the guesswork out of lawn care. He said the turf on a particular property might look chlorotic or off-colour, which might be nitrogen-related, but the problem could be much deeper than that. Mere guessing and applying nitrogen improperly may end up making the situation worse.
“With a soil analysis, you can actually find out what your soil deficiencies are.”
Adopting the philosophy of best management practices means not putting down products haphazardly, but instead to understand what is being put down is guided by the results of soil testing.
“It’s just a responsible way to manage your turf.”
Kehoe said recent soil testing has shown a trend toward deficient potassium levels, and lawn care operators should be award of this.
Applying the right product at the right time of year is crucial, he said. Applying quick-release sources at the wrong time of year could result in the burning of turf or unnecessarily increasing its growth or building up thatch levels which could leave turf susceptible to disease.
Cultural practices must be performed regularly to get the full benefit of products used. Using an example from golf course management, Kehoe said aerifying twice a year and topdressing at least once a month work toward the overall health of the plant.
By removing excess thatch, fertilizer can make its way into the root zone that much more quickly, and smaller amounts of pesticides can be used to greater effect, he said.
Soil conditions can vary from one location to another, he said, adding it’s a consideration lawn care operators must make.
“This is a huge thing to consider when thinking about what nitrogen source you should be applying.”
In lawn care, a slower-release fertilizer is best during the summer. Nitrogen sources—coated products vs. stabilized nitrogen products—must also be based on the availability of irrigation.
Timing of the application is important to ensure the nutrients are available to the plant when they are needed. Kehoe said one must be focused on the particular season to know when the products should be applied, or whether it’s to be a dormant application.
Keep an eye on the weather, he advised, and don’t apply fertilizer when it’s extremely hot.
“You can burn your turf pretty easily if you’re not familiar with what nitrogen source you’re using and what has to be done when you’re applying it.”
Timing is also based on turf species which each have different growth rates.
Fertilizer must be applied at the correct rate and matched to the plant’s needs, Kehoe said.
Mowing height must be factored in when formulating nitrogen rates. The lower the mowing height, the more care must be given. He warned that lawn care operators might be “messing” with their turf if they are adding too much nitrogen at one time.
Proper fertility must also be based on soil texture. Different fertilizer technologies work on different soil types. Products which work well with clay soils may not necessarily be as effective on sand.
Less waste is realized when the right product is used in the right place at the right time. Maintenance costs are reduced when using fertilizer appropriately because if the grass is manipulated to grow twice as quickly as expected, a second mowing in the same week will increase costs.
“If you’re using the right nitrogen source or the right blend, that is what you need to do.”
Kehoe said the ideal growth rate is realized, and the turf is not left open to disease. Adhering to a proper program will result in overall healthier turf. Other benefits include better water quality and better air purification.