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Fertigation 101

June 18, 2020 -  By
Fertigated landscape beds (Photo: VIP Landscaping)

In full bloom Implementing fertigation along with drip irrigation can help produce healthier, more vibrant plants. (Photo: VIP Landscaping)

Fertigation is the process of injecting fertilizer into an irrigation system so that every time a zone is irrigated, it’s fertilized as well, according to Andy Belingheri, national sales manager at Jain Irrigation.

“Rather than feeding your landscape two to four times a year, you’re feeding it on a daily basis or several times a week, depending on how often you water it,” he says. “It’s kind of like eating. If you only got to eat once a day or once a week, you’re hungry in between, but if you’re given a steady diet of three or four meals a day, you’re a lot happier and healthier.”

Darin Brasch, national sales manager at EZ-FLO, a fertigation tank supplier, agrees. “By feeding the plant sporadically, you’re going to get surge growth that causes stress, which then causes insects and disease,” he says. “We eliminate that by feeding a little bit all the time. We’re microfeeding through the irrigation system.”

Landscape Management spoke with Belingheri, Brasch and Wesley Maggard, owner of VIP Landscaping in Las Vegas, to get the scoop on implementing fertigation on turf and landscape beds.

How it works

Fertigation systems are most commonly used in dry, arid regions such as the Southwest that primarily rely on drip irrigation, according to Belingheri.

Fertigated plants (Photo: VIP Landscaping)

Irrigating and fertilizing little by little can help ward off disease and insect infestation. (Photo: VIP Landscaping)

“The best way to fertilize with drip irrigation is through a liquid fertilizer,” he says. “If you’re using a granular fertilizer and you have drip irrigation, very little of it gets to the plant because it’s not watered in. You end up with wasted fertilizer and plants that aren’t as healthy.”

The fertigation tank itself attaches after the backflow and before the first set of valves, Brasch says.

“When a valve opens up, it creates a pressure differential, and we meter a very small amount of fertilizer out through every zone, and it adjusts automatically to pressure and flow,” Brasch says. “It delivers the same parts per million from start to finish.”

Tank size can range from 1 gallon to 25 gallons, depending on the square footage of the landscape and the irrigation frequency, Belingheri says, so hotter climates may drain the fertigation tank faster than cooler regions.

The benefits

In addition to feeding and irrigating turf, landscape beds or ornamentals, Belingheri says fertigation systems can save on labor as well.

“It’s an investment, and it pays off over time,” he says. “Anything you can do to reduce labor is going to pay dividends.”

Maggard adds that fertigation tank installs function as an upsell for his company, which provides about 90 percent design/build services and 10 percent irrigation and landscape maintenance services to a primarily residential clientele. An install takes between 1.5 to three hours and costs between $450 and $750 for a 1.5-gallon tank.

“It keeps us in a recurring relationship with that client, which is rare since design/build relationships are often a one-shot deal,” he says. “It naturally opens up to clients asking us to do other tasks, such as adding more plants or lighting.”

The company provides one free refill and offers a base refill program of three times in the spring and three times in the fall. Clients can also refill the tank themselves. “With six refills a year, you get great performance. Two years after an initial install, a client’s landscape looks like it’s been in the ground for four or five years,” Maggard says.

Words of advice

For other contractors looking to implement fertigation, Maggard advises they make sure to tap into the irrigation line, instead of, say, the line for the pool or water feature. He says crews should also undergo training to install the tanks.

“Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s not hard, but you have to be aware of that,” he says. “In nine years, we’ve never burned or overfertilized anything. It’s relatively easy to use and install with a low risk of messing it up once you put it in correctly.”

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's associate editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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