Nutritional values

The successful feeding of turf is a balance of the right type of product, in the right amount and at the right time.

Put a group of groundsmen or greenkeepers together, and one of the hottest topics of debate will be “nutritional inputs for turf”. Each of them will want to know what the others are using, when they are applying and in what quantities. Each will have their own tips and advice for the others. It may be a case of “stick with the conventional”, or it might be a matter of “try the organic”.
Variations in soil, weather, sward composition, type and amount of use mean there can be no standardisation of advice on the subject of nutrition. But two things are clear. Firstly, applying too little nutrient is bad for the health of the overall grass sward. Too little nutrient can produce a weak sward that encourages weed and moss invasion and can also encourage certain diseases such as anthracnose. Secondly, applying too much fertiliser could be just as bad — if not worse.
Too much nutrition can create soft lush grass that is susceptible to disease and excess wear. It can also encourage the coarser grass species, such as Poa annua. And, of course, applying too much fertiliser is wasteful in terms of time and money, and can be harmful to the environment. The budgetary considerations and the environmental effects of over-fertilising are increasingly important issues for the turf manager. Nutritional products must be selected with care and then applied correctly.
Farmura managing director Jonathan Harmer points out: “Golf in particular seems to be suffering from too many courses, too many green fees and not enough members. Greenkeeper budgets are tight and so they are becoming more careful and selective in their purchasing. They tend to favour established suppliers and products.”
Local authorities are, naturally enough, watching funds very carefully and even in the clubs, increases in the off-pitch costs is leading to a reduction in expenditure on the pitch. Farmura, based in Kent, has just launched Premium N — a liquid, nitrogen fertiliser with 58 per cent methylene urea for slower release — at what it believes is a very affordable price.
The analysis of Farmura’s new product is 35-0-0 weight/volume, or 28-0-0 weight/weight and, to assist with the spoon-feeding approach, the company has developed a chart to illustrate the kilograms of nitrogen applied per hectare and also per 500sq m at different application rates. Premium N costs from £1.50 per litre and is available in 25-, 210- and 1,000-litre containers.
In the golf world there is much debate and interest in more sustainable golf courses. This is largely due to environmental concerns and pressures, withdrawal of pesticides and concerns about water, according to Harmer. He continues: “If this trend is pursued, I believe it will lead to an increase in the use of traditional bent and fescue grasses, which in turn will lead to lower inputs of fertilisers and chemicals.”
Planning nutrition for any facility is about getting the right balance of inputs. For many turf managers, this is the stumbling block. Scotts technical manager Simon Barnaby has this advice: “One of the best ways to achieve the right balance of inputs is to use a soil analysis to help ascertain current levels of soil nutrients and to work out which nutrients are low — or sometimes are far too high. Once it has been decided what to apply, it is necessary to decide what type of fertiliser to use.
“There are many fertilisers on the market. You should look for ones that have been researched and proven.”
Most turf managers are looking for accurate and efficient fertiliser application, with a high level of control. This means that the grass is always under control. To help achieve this, Scotts has developed a new range of three Greenmaster liquid fertilisers to complement the company’s granular products.
“These advanced, fast-acting products enable users to spray turf with a direct nutrient source when required, ensuring a faster plant response than with granular applications,” explains Barnaby. The new products contain trace elements that are chelated for improved availability, plus vitamins for health and improved stress tolerance. Greenmaster can be tank mixed with other products and comes in packaging with an “anti-glug” mechanism for a smoother flow of liquid.
Scotts has also introduced a new Sierrablen range of granular controlled- release fertilisers. The products are Spring Starter (24-5-8+2MgO), Active (18-5-18+2MgO) and Stress-Control (15-5-22+5MgO). They feature Scotts’ resin and/or Poly-S coated fertiliser granules that rely on soil temperature as their mechanism of release. Nutrient delivery is matched to turf growth requirements to minimise leaching.

Organic procedure
A growing interest in organic fertilisers has brought a rush of products to the market in the past few years, but one of the newest is a fertiliser and soil conditioner made from casts produced by millions of worms throughout the country. Kent-based The Wormcast Company successfully launched Wormcast last year for the gardening market and is now keen to make this product available to both the professional landscaping and turf maintenance sectors.
Wormcast marketing manager Joanna Wood explains: “Wormcast aims to appeal to those looking for a versatile organic product to improve soil quality, encourage healthy growth, deter pests and diseases and with many other benefits such as improving germination.”
The formulation for turf — Wormcast T — is a concentrated soil and plant conditioner, a natural organic product with high levels of “friendly bacteria” and micro-organisms noted for accelerating the change of minerals in the soil into more soluble forms that grass plants can more easily access. The bacteria promote the production of plant hormones and plant growth regulators. In addition, Wormcast T is said to have anti-thatch properties and to decrease the incidence of disease, parasitic nematodes and arthropod pests. Tests indicate it causes no damage to grass if applied too heavily and the product is safe to people and the environment.
Another new product, from Rigby Taylor, brings together the two worlds of conventional fertiliser science and natural supplements. The Mascot Guardian range is formulated for use on golf and bowling greens, tennis courts, ornamental lawns and sports fields. The products are homogenous granules for even coverage and have a conventional nitrogen source for rapid green-up. In addition to traditional nutrients, the products contain amino acids and enhanced root developer (ERD).
Rigby Taylor product manager John Holt explains: “Environmental factors, such as drought, heat, frost and too much rainfall, can cause a great deal of stress to a turfgrass sward. Under optimal conditions, plants synthesise amino acids but at the expense of high levels of energy.
“The problem is that under stressful conditions, there is a greater demand for amino acids than the plant is able to meet. Applying supplemental amino acids in the active L-form enables energy savings to be made, which can then be directed into essential physiological processes such as photosynthesis. This better enables turf to withstand the rigours of stress.”
The ERD element of Guardian fertilisers consists of zinc and other specific micronutrients formulated in such a way as to provide a synergistic complex. “ERD causes several plant responses, including an increase in root mass and length, improved uptake and retention of nutrients and increased growth rates, resulting in overall improved plant health and vigor,” says Holt.
The new products increase the choice of methods available for sustaining turf facilities. That’s good news when environmental pressures, tight budgets and user expectations make balancing turf nutrition difficult but essential.

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