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Greener grass ahead with controlled-release fertilizers

February 16, 2021 -  By
On clients’ lawns, LawnRx uses a coated fertilizer with a 40-50 percent controlled-release blend. (Photo: LawnRx)

On clients’ lawns, LawnRx uses a coated fertilizer with a 40-50 percent controlled-release blend. (Photo: LawnRx)

A lot goes into selecting and applying the right fertilizer — and some lawn care operators (LCOs) find that controlled-release options yield quality turf and cut back on the amount of fertilizer they need to apply. Controlled-release fertilizers differ from slow-release in that a polymer or sulfur coating covers each prill and gradually releases nutrients into the soil. Slow-release products typically are not coated.

“I would recommend all LCOs use a coated product,” says Bruce Love, president of Lawn Rx in Latrobe, Pa. “You’re getting more return on your investment because you have a better utilization rate on your fertilizer. You’re not getting as much nitrification; it’s not gassing off. A lot of the nitrogen you’re putting down is stabilized and available to the plant.”

Lawn Rx is a $1.7 million company that provides 80 percent lawn care, 10 percent pest control, 5 percent tree/shrub care and 5 percent industrial vegetation services to 3,000 primarily residential clients.

Mike Giese, co-owner of Perfecturf Lawn Care in Franksville, Wis., uses controlled-release products as well.

“We like controlled-release over the season, as it reduces our callbacks and improves greening,” he says.

A small, family-operated company, Perfecturf does 70 percent of its business in lawn care, 20 percent in plant health care and 10 percent in pest control for a client base that’s 70 percent residential and 30 percent commercial.

Product selection

Giese’s company selected PolyPlus-Opti, a Lesco product sold by SiteOne, with a 50 to 70 percent controlled-release blend, which he says provides 12 to 16 weeks of feeding.

With a new client, Giese says he first discusses lawn care goals and then uses a probe to take a soil sample to check out the lawn’s soil profile.

“With new construction homes, there’s a lot more clay involved than older homes that have more topsoil and dirt,” he says. “We’re just implementing the proper nutrients and starting out with a couple applications of granular controlled-release, and then, we’re changing our granular fertilizer to adjust (to the lawn’s needs) after that.”

Lawn Rx purchases fertilizers from SiteOne and Advanced Turf Supply and mostly uses a coated fertilizer with a 40-50 percent controlled-release blend.

“Not all coated products are the same, and price goes up as your controlled release goes up,” Love cautions.

Proper spread

Love advises technicians to ensure their equipment works well so fertilizer prills stay intact.

“The mechanism for agitation is important — you don’t want to break that coating inside the spreader,” he says. Lawn Rx uses Lesco walk-behind spreaders and Permagreen and Turfco ride-on spreader-sprayers.

Giese says technicians should ensure they get proper coverage and that their machines are calibrated for the proper amount of nitrogen. The company uses Z-Spray Mid and Z-Spray Max spreader-sprayers and Lesco walk-behind spreaders for its applications.

Additionally, Perfecturf is careful to blow excess fertilizer prills off walkways and hardscapes back into the turf.

“There’s a lot of urea and iron in these products, and we don’t want them to stain hardscapes,” he explains. To ensure proper handling of fertilizer products, always read the label and carefully follow the directions.

A deeper green

With controlled-release products, Giese says lawns are “greener, healthier and more vigorous all season long.” He says stronger turf helps combat weeds, since the best weed control is thick, lush grass.

“We can put more money toward proper (fertilizer) chemistry because we’re using fewer pesticides, which is better for the environment,” he adds.

Love says controlled-release products offer extended and deeper green and a sustained period of fertility, noting, “We’re confident the product is still feeding the lawn by the time we get back for the next application, so there’s no lapse of feeding when we’re using coated products.”

Controlled-release fertilizers are a plus for his commercial clients in particular.

“Coated products will save you labor, and you won’t have to mow quite as much,” he says. “On commercial accounts, that’s more of an advantage, and we don’t have to fertilize as much throughout the season because you don’t have that flush of growth — it’s more manageable growth.”

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the former senior editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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