Having recently talked to several company sales reps, the sale of fertiliser products has been unprecedented for this time of the year. The recent warm spell of weather we had in February certainly helped kickstart our growing season, with many groundsmen and greenkeepers buying and applying their first applications of fertiliser products.
Without doubt, we now have at our disposal a very large array of feeding products and recommended feeding regimes tailored to suit our ever-demanding natural turf playing surfaces. With soil and air temperatures on the increase and moving into double figures, a timely dose of nutrients will benefit and help kickstart some much needed grass growth. However, your choice and selection of products will be determined by many factors.
For intensively managed turf, fertiliser input is essential to promote growth and to allow grass to recover from wear and tear. By far and away the most important nutrient for grass growth is nitrogen. Particularly on sand based constructed pitches where often there is very little cation exchange capacity (CEC) going on. This generally results in nutrients having to be applied more frequently to maintain optimal growth requirements. Cation exchange capacity is a measure of the soil’s ability to hold positively charged ions. It is a very important soil property, influencing soil structure stability, nutrient availability, soil pH and the soil’s reaction to fertilisers and other ameliorants (Hazleton and Murphy 2007).
Other nutrients are important e.g. phosphate and potassium. The former is particularly important for seed establishment, the latter for drought tolerance and strength of growth. Deficiency in these may occur in some soils and this can be ascertained by soil testing. Other nutrients such as sulphur, magnesium and calcium are not likely to be deficient in most soils. In addition, there are micronutrients such as copper and manganese which are required by the turf in very small quantities and are rarely found to be deficient.
The range and choice of fertiliser products today is staggering. They come in all manner of disguises and modes of action. We now have a vast range of granular products on offer combining new prill technologies that give us accurate dosages and improved longevity. We also in recent years, due to the development of more accurate and affordable sprayers, can also apply feeds in a soluble form - with many grounds professionals utilising and combining the use of both technologies for applying fertilisers. Another advantage of using soluble products is that they can often be mixed with other soil enhancing products such as growth retardants / regulators, soil enhancers and various bio stimulants. Coupled with the fact that often the grass plant responds quicker to foliar feeds, this is borne out in a recent article I read discussing the pro’s and cons of granular and liquid fertilisers.
We have also in recent years seen an interest in the use of compost teas, essentially the capturing of fertiliser nutrients in waste materials and re-using them as fertiliser. There is a considerable amount of work being carried out on this at present. For instance; composted green and food waste contains N, P and K which can be re-applied.
However, the first thing we must do before we apply any fertilisers or plant stimulants is to analyse the current condition / health of the grass plant and identify what type of soil matrix we are dealing with, along with evaluating its nutrient status.
Each and every sports ground will also have its own topography / environment and specific needs pertaining to the sport being played.
Most product supply companies, such as Rigby Taylor, Sherriff Amenity, ALS, Headland Amenity, ICL, Pitchworks, Turfcare to name a few generally offer a comprehensive soil analysis service.
To get a complete picture of the health of your amenity turf, Headland Amenity currently offers a total amenity turf analysis service to its customers – taking soil, turf leaf and irrigation water samples for nutrient, organic matter and particle size analysis. The samples are then sent to the speciality Lancrop Laboratories/Yara Analytical Services Laboratory and the results provided in a clear and concise report.
Once you have this information, you will be in a better position to select the appropriate fertiliser / growth promoter / bio stimulant products for use on your facility.
Another point to consider is make sure you apply the product in accordance to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Poor application technique can turn even a moderate burn risk fertiliser into a real scorcher. The following tips are ways you can reduce the likelihood of scorching your turf:
- Accurately calculate all areas and quantities
- Don’t apply to stressed turf in hot conditions
- Apply during cooler times of the day
- Apply, during rain or with follow-up irrigation
- Do not rely on heavy dew alone to dissolve fertilisers
- Always apply follow-up irrigation.
Take the opportunity to talk to other turf professionals and go and see the results of their fertiliser programmes. Also seek advice from many of the experienced sales reps, who spend their time recommending appropriate products and services. Usually you know your own site / facility better than anyone and often you need to trust your own judgement. Also do not be afraid to try out new products. However, if you do, take time to research and find out where it has been used and how well it worked.
And finally, a full fertiliser, bio stimulant programme will not be cheap. Invest wisely and you will reap the rewards.