Selecting the right fertiliser formula for healthy turf

With the arrival of spring, it is time for amenity managers to weigh up the benefits of slow-release granular products against faster-acting liquids and foliar feeds.

Taylor: promotes environmental responsibility alongside the use of BSH seed. Credit: British Seed Houses
Taylor: promotes environmental responsibility alongside the use of BSH seed. Credit: British Seed Houses

No golf course fairway or amenity space would remain in top condition for long without an annual fertiliser regime to ensure surfaces cope with the strains of footfall, seasonal weather extremes and being regularly cut back hard.

As the greenkeeping and amenity calendars move into the busy spring season and footfall on the courses and park lawns increases, identifying the seasonal requirements of turfgrass is an essential step in ensuring continued quality for users.

Manufacturers realise this and provide a range of fertilisers with different nutrient levels to suit the changing seasons and specific situations. Balancing environmental concerns and turf quality, most advocate the use of slow-release fertilisers to provide a steady supply of nutrients over an extended period of time, complemented by organic foliar feeds and liquid applications.

Soluble compound fertilisers release nitrogen into the soil quickly, creating rapid growth, as well as potentially leaching into water courses and causing pollution. Although slow-release fertilisers are more expensive compared to soluble fertilisers, labour savings made through fewer applications mean that costs often balance out. Environmentally, there is a bonus as nutrients are more likely to stay in the soil.

British Seed Houses (BSH), known predominantly for its grass-seed products, has offered fertilisers alongside its core products for more than 25 years. The Lincoln- and Bristol-based company has now added the full range of Floranid slow-release fertilisers from Compo Professional to its lists, reinforcing this side of the business alongside its seed range. Floranid is the sort of product recommended for use with BSH grasses, according to the firm's amenity director Simon Taylor. It uses Isodur technology to create a slow-release nitrogen molecule and instead of being supplied as a blend, each of the granules in Floranid fertilisers contains NPK and other trace elements to aid even distribution.

Taylor says: "We promote environmental care and responsibility alongside the use of our seed and this is one of the reasons we chose the slow-release range. Controlled-release fertilisers can lose their resin coating through regular greens maintenance, leading to a build-up of oil-based resins in the soil profile. The use of the Isodur slow-release urea rather than a coating prevents this."

With different levels of nutrients in each of the Floranid products, Taylor expects to see demand for certain products at different times of the year.

"Moving into March and April we're seeing demand from golf courses for Permanent 16-7-15, with higher phosphates for root growth. This lasts 10-12 weeks. For a longer-lasting option we're seeing demand in Basatop. One application lasts for four months. Applied now it lasts through spring and into summer."

Yorkshire-based Yara Phoysn offers a range of fertilisers for sports amenity, golf and edible crop protection. At this time of year, speciality manager John Keyte sees a high use of Turf Royale among his amenity and greenkeeper customers. Turf Royale is a slow-release prill option offering a high dose of nitrogen to kickstart the growing season.

He says: "Turf Royale is a prill rather than a granule, with a smooth surface. It's manufactured differently from granules, starting out as a molten liquid to ensure each prill has the same level of nutrients. The analysis is 22-7-12 - that's a relatively high nitrogen level to give an early season start. It's the most important element after the winter period as heavy rainfall will have leached the soil of nitrogen. It's not for summer and autumn, it's purely for spring applications. We offer spring, summer and autumn turf feeds in varying options - mini granular, granular, liquid and foliar.

Keyte sees a preference towards liquid and foliar feeds, particularly foliar: "Customers find they are having to apply less fertiliser for foliar uptake than with soil applications and we're seeing much more interest in foliar feeds than we have in the past."

Foliar fertilisers are concentrated solutions using very high-grade technical elements in which the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are combined to the desired ratio in a controlled environment. Trace elements in the form of chelates (organic binding compounds) are added, along with seaweed or humic acid. Other additives may be included to give a balanced fertiliser supplying NPK and trace elements as well as growth hormones and vitamins.

The Scotts Company is one of the top sellers of fertiliser products to the home market and also offers a range of fertiliser mixes for professional sport and amenity use covering requirements throughout the growing season. As well as long-lasting granular fertiliser options in its Sierra range, the company offers a fast-acting liquid solution with Greenmaster Liquid fertilisers. To prevent run-off, the liquid mixes include TMax, a nutrient uptake activator that "unlocks" nutrients held in the soil. The activator ensures that the liquid application spreads out and sticks onto the leaf to maximise the area for nutrient uptake and reduce leaf run-off.

Fertilisers can be used mixed with substrates and seed mixes to promote growth in specific areas such as pathways and play areas. This saves time and money as new strong growth can be targeted to certain patches, keeping other areas low maintenance.

Beyond NPK

With the level of research focused on turf nutrition, most fertilisers go much further than providing the three main nutrients - NPK. Special blends are produced for varying soil deficiencies in various trace elements including calcium, sulphur, magnesium, iron, manganese, boron and zinc.

BSH amenity director Taylor says: "The nutritional side of grass is becoming more of a science than it used to be. The danger is that a lot of turf managers tend to get stuck in a cycle. An annual soil analysis will allow you to identify the exact needs of your turf. We've seen cases of greens that haven't been analysed only to see fertiliser applications build up phosphates to such a level that Poa annua and meadow grasses are encouraged to seed - something you don't want on any golf green."

Also catering for specific nutrient requirements, The Scotts Company offers three speciality products - STEP liquid (a trace element mix), Iron 4 (Fe four per cent ESDA chelated) and Ca Booster (08-00-00 + 10 per cent CaO + TE).

Quick Fix

Although the use of slow-release fertilisers is widely recommended, soluble fertilisers still have their place. Fast-acting options can offer a quick fix to a problem. Many slow-release options are dependent on certain temperatures for nitrogen release to begin. If that temperature is not met, particularly early in the season, a soluble option can be selected to give an initial boost before temperatures are right for slow-release applications. 

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MO Bacter An organic fertiliser that also has the ability to destroy moss, without leaving any debris or staining stonework, was launched in the UK last autumn by DJ Turfcare of Surrey.

Called MO Bacter, the fertiliser is made by Viano of Belgium and is a slow-release granular product with the analysis 5-5-20. Combined with bacteria (Bacillus sp.) it also kills moss, which the bacterial element then digests to leave turf free from debris and with no need to scarify.

Trialled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the product eliminated 5cm of moss over six months. Headstones were unmarked and the grass was fed evenly. "This product will revolutionise the way moss is treated on grass close to stonework," says DJ Turfcare managing director David Jenkins.

MO Bacter provides three months feeding and can spread twice a year at 10kg to 15kg per 100sq m.

Indigrow Three former employees of Amenity Technology have formed a company supplying the UK amenity turf sector with a range of products, including Impact Fine Turf and Outfield granular fertilisers, as well as a selection of Orbit, Compass and Fusion nutritional products for the professional turf manager. These are available in both liquid and soluble form.

N-Fusion N-Fusion allows turf to provide itself with the nitrogen it needs by extracting it from the hundreds of kilos of nitrogen gas present in the atmosphere.

Available in small vials, the product promotes symbiotic nitrogen fixation. Just one small application - 20ml of rehydrated microbes per hectare - is sufficient to supply between 75 and 100g/ha of nitrogen plant food.

N-Fusion is offered in the UK by Soil Harmony, a division of Charterhouse Turf Machinery, based in Surrey.

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