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Fertilizer for the lawn–what’s in the bag?

Today’s post on lawn fertilizers is from Joe Charbonneau from Valley Green Turf  of Holyoke, MA.  Joe lives in Manchester Vermont and supplies golf course and lawn care companies through out Vermont and northern New York.  Before working with Valley Green, Joe spent a number of years as the superintendent of the Equinox in Manchester.  Joe has been working with us since 2008 supplying fertilizers and consulting in special cases.  We are honored to have him share his knowledge about turf fertilizers with us today.  So without further fanfare here’s Joe……

A fertilizer provides a balance feeding for grass/turf plants just as food and drink does for our bodies.  There is not just one nutrient that the plant requires to flourish but many which will be discussed in general terms in this posting.  We will also discuss organic vs synthetic based components that comprise each and every bag or gallon.

The Label is broken up into numbers that represent both the macro and minor nutrient content of the product. The “big 3” or N-P-K are the big bold numbers that are represented by the percent in the bag.

  • N- Nitrogen: supplies the food for top growth and color for the grass plant. Affects all metabolic processes of the plant
  • P- Phosphorous: supplies food for root, rhizome, and stolon growth of plant. Essential for seeding   Remember: application of P to established turf without a soil analysis stating that there is a P deficit is against state regulations in both Vermont and New York.
  • K- Potassium: supplies food to the plant that assists with rigidity of plant through enhancing cell structure

One will also find a listing of minor nutrients found in the bag that will include Calcium which is thought by some as being part of the “big 3” because of its relationship to plant and soil structure. Also the minor elements Iron, Magnesium, and Manganese will be listed, all of which have an impact on chlorophyll production or “greening without growth”.

The label will also list sources of nutrients such as:

  • Synthetic- Urea, Methylene Urea, Ammoninical Nitrogen, UMAXX, UFLEXX, SCU, XCU, Duration, and SurfCote. All these Nitrogen sources have different longevity of releases and speed of release which equates to how hot the fertilizer is on the plant, burn potential and longevity.
  • Mineral- Sulfate of Potash, Muriate of Potash, Phosphorous- Mined from the earth
  • Organic- SunFlower Ash, Poultry Liter, Feather Meal, Blood Meal, Bio Solids

When a consumer or professional turf manager selects a Fertilizer Formulations all these aspects of the fertilizer label are considered in the selection.  Often times a soil analysis is examined and deficits of nutrients are also addressed.

As a person with over 40 years as a turf manager, consultant, and now sales of turf products; here are a few basics of choosing an appropriate fertilizer for your lawn.

  • Examine the N-P-K of the label to figure how much Nitrogen is in the bag and ensure more value for the dollar. This is done by multiplying the %N by the pounds of fertilizer in the bag so a 50# bag of a 25-0-5 has 12.5# N in the bag. A 50# bag of 25-0-5 has twice the N and twice the square foot coverage as a 25# bag.
  • Examine how much slowly available (slow release) Nitrogen is in the bag. Most bags available to the consumer at a big box store are between 15-30% slowly available N.  This is fine for early season application to get a short lived, fast growth burst to quickly recover from the ravages of winter, but sustained, steady growth is the goal of a fertility program for your lawn. Look for a minimum of 40-70% slowly available Nitrogen to achieve healthier turf and less spikes in growth.
  • Slowly Available Nitrogen coupled with small amounts of readily availabe Nitrogen in a bag gives you the ultimate in balance of cost.
  • Nitrogen Sources will vary your release also. Methylene ureas depend on soil temperatures, coated material need both water and soil temps, and organics need both soil temps and water to change nutrients to available forms so the plant can utilize it.  Organic fertilizers also add one additional very important element: CARBON which is the key to growth in the soil.
  • Want to jump on the CARBON wagon?? This is an investment the soil that turf grows in and will cost more money and takes a couple of years before the investment starts to pay dividends.

Bottom Line here is “that all fertilizers are alike but not the same”.  Unless you know the relationship between plant and soil, get the advice from a Lawn Care Professional.  By applying fertilizer high in readily available Nitrogen will produce a lot of lush top growth and at first observation look great but the plants roots and soil environment have not been addressed.  When environmental stresses hit of summer or winter, the roots and soil will not get the top growth of the plant through the period and thus will go dormant or perish.

Does your lawn fertilization program need help?  Aaron or Joe would love to talk to you about how you can improve your turf while keeping to your budget.  S & D Landscapes is proud to offer a wide variety of professional turf care programs.

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