Before you know what is happening, the grass is looking tired. Diseases such as anthracnose — indicative of stress and low nutrient levels — begin to cause problems. Because of the conditions and the extended play our facilities receive, many groundsmen and greenkeepers turn to judicious autumn feeding to strengthen the grass and help fight off disease.
But autumn feeding must be done with care. Too much feeding or using the wrong nutrients may cause a flush of growth, which in turn makes the grass even more susceptible to stress, disease and frost damage. On the other hand, too little nutrient provision will make the sward weak, unable to stand up to the demands of play and again leave it susceptible to disease.
In autumn and winter, levels of nutrients in the soil will often tail off because of leaching by heavy rain. A soil analysis should be the starting point for anyone looking to introduce nutrition. Most fertiliser makers and suppliers will offer to analyse soil samples or have them analysed at an independent laboratory. Guidelines for appropriate nutrient programmes can then be suggested.
Ideally, because the main aim is to avoid flushes of growth, the programme is likely to include fertilisers and feeds with a lower nitrogen content than you would use at other times of the year. The nutrient analysis needs to be right to ensure the grass is just “ticking over”, not putting on lots of growth. However, it is important to keep an eye on the weather forecasts. If we are fortunate enough to have an Indian summer, followed by good conditions with a little rainfall, some growth can be encouraged. In this instance slow-release nitrogen products are worth considering.
Potash is the other important nutrient to consider at this time of year. Potash tends to be a more mobile nutrient and can easily leach from the soil with the winter rains. It is needed for overall sturdiness and to help keep the grass in a better state of health.
Many autumn and winter fertilisers will also contain a proportion of iron. Well known for hardening turf and effectively conditioning the grass for the tough winter months, iron will also promote a bit of colour and is important in providing resistance to disease. It’s the grass’s answer to our vitamin C.
When you are looking for an autumn/ winter fertiliser, the same rules of granule size apply as they would at other times of the year. The risk of fertiliser granules “walking” off the golf green increases with wet shoes and kit so be sure to consider only mini-granules and powders for fine turf situations. In any case, with the lower cutting heights associated with fine turf, you don’t want to be mowing off the fertiliser and collecting it in the grass box before it has had time to break down and do its job.
There are also liquid feeds suitable for application in the autumn. These can be especially useful if it is a prolonged autumn with continued grass growth — as is often the case nowadays. Liquid feeds have the advantage of providing plant food in a form that is readily available and can be used immediately. The response is usually quick but not necessarily long lasting.
Whatever product you choose, check the nutrient analysis in combination with the application rate. And make sure the product is consistent. Remember that spreadability is linked to uniformity of product. Check that you have suitable equipment with which to apply the fertiliser or feed, and that the equipment is in good working order.
Finally, when you are working out the cost, remember the price per bag is not the only consideration. Area covered and the number of applications needed should be added into the equation.
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