Fertility: Are You Ready For The Season Ahead?

As the big thaw across Britain begins, our minds start looking forward to the season ahead and our thoughts turn to our maintenance programmes for the coming season. Without doubt one of the most crucial elements of producing good surfaces is how we apply nutrients to the plant. Too much all at once will produce soft, slow, spongy surfaces. Too little could thin out the sward encouraging diseases such as anthracnose. There has been a lot of talk over the past decade about how we have overfed our surfaces. This is probably true to some extent. Have some people now gone too far the other way? Could they be under-feeding their surfaces?

There are two basic things we can give plants to help them stay healthy. Water is obviously one (even fescue needs water), and nutrients the other. We all know about the NPK way, but I feel that time and method has moved away from this. It’s just not about NPK these days, but more crucially how and when you apply it.

At every seminar I have spoken at, the question is always asked ‘How much Nitrogen do you apply?’. It’s a valid question but always a loaded one. Giving a single figure doesn’t give an accurate representation. If I applied 100 units (kg) of N for the year, does it mean I applied 4 granular feeds with 25 units in each application? Did I apply it purely by foliar means or a combination of granular and foliar? All of these have different consequences on growth, performance and health. So instead of a number, think more deeply. First, think about what you want to achieve, then put a plan together that allows you to do so.

Be In Control Of Growth
When I started in the industry in the early nineties, granular feeding was choice of greenkeepers. Ask any greenkeeper then and he would say, ‘35g/m2 of sulphate/ammonia’. This was great for growing grass, but surfaces would be uncontrollable one week, and starving the next. The key to producing consistent growth on an even keel is to apply it on a ‘little and often’ basis. Drip feeding the N on instead of blasting it on all at once will produce consistent greens every day of the week. You have to try to be in control of growth and not let it control you.

So how do we do this? 20 years ago a greenskeeper would probably have said that the greens mower was his most crucial piece of equipment. Today I bet quite a few would say that the sprayer is the piece of kit that they can't do without. The sprayer's role has changed a huge amount over the years. It is now a crucial piece of armoury in the greenkeepers shed. During the season it may be out there daily applying to all playing surfaces. So what is the perfect programme for the greens?

One of my biggest issues with fertiliser companies arises when they suggest products and programmes. Usually it is a generic solution for all grasses, whether they be fescue, bent, poa or rye. This cannot be right. Different grasses obviously have different needs. A poa sward will be a lot more juicy at certain times than a fescue one. Poa will therefore need feeding sooner than the fescue as the nutrients applied will be depleted sooner. Before you come up with your 'perfect' programme, consider the needs of your particular grass species and design your plan based on maximizing that plant!

Soluble or Liquid?
Since the sprayer has become more popular I often get asked whether we should apply soluble or liquid feed. At the end of the day there is no difference (apart from price usually). The plant doesn't know whether it was in liquid formation or it came in soluble bags before it was applied. There are a lot of companies out there selling a ‘wonder product’. The sales pitch will be their secret formula that gets the product into the plant. But I ask you this. Do you think that a grass plant knows that product X is better than product Y? I don’t think so. What’s important to a grass plant is a) the nutrient source, b) the way the product is applied and c) how much nutrient is being applied at once. Once you know that then you can pick the correct product depending on price. If a liquid is more competitive, then buy that and vice versa.

Do your own homework

I get so frustrated when I hear that a greenkeeper has based their programme around the results of a fertiliser company's test results. We are skilled turf managers. We went to college or university to learn about growing grass. Fertility was one of the key areas, so why do we need a company to lay out our programmes? By all means ask their opinions, but do your own research. Get your tests, either soil or tissue, completed by independent laboratories. There are plenty of them about. That way you will be in charge of your own density and not reliant on a company (however good they are) whose core business is to sell fertiliser!

As we head in to spring we will all be thinking about our fertility programmes for the year ahead. First decide what you want to achieve this year. It might be to reduce your poa content, or to reduce your disease pressure in the summer months. Then think about your application methods; Granular or foliar or both. Finally, select products that will give you results at a competitive price. That at the end of the day is why we are turf managers!

Greg Evans MG


Get in on Gantec’s 2012 Turf Trials Program.  Gantec, Inc., a Michigan-based entrepreneur has announced the 2012 Turf Trial Program.  Garland Resort is doing it again in a bigger way, and was “extremely happy with the results” from the trial they did last year. For details contact Ben Olson at (989) 859-0282 or benolson@gantecinc.com. 

Dear Barb and Ben,
Get a life.
Scott J Morrison