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How to get the most out of controlled-release fertilizers

February 13, 2020 -  By
Spreader applying fertilizer (Photo: SiteOne Landscape Supply)

Controlled-release fertilizers may be easier on equipment than traditional fertilizers (Photo: SiteOne Landscape Supply)

“Being in a semitropical climate, we’re privy to every insect and every disease there is,” says Lynn Tootle, managing partner of Gro-Masters in Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.

With high disease and pest pressure, controlled-release fertilizers have been a useful product in Tootle’s arsenal. “We use controlled-release (fertilizers) in the heat of the summer, so that we can minimize our risk of plant burn, while still being aggressive with our fertilizer application rates,” he says.

Brian Rowan, vice president, category management at SiteOne Landscape Supply, explains that this class of granular fertilizers includes products with release times of 45, 90, 120 or even up to 180 days. Some controlled-release products are sulfur-coated and some are polymer-coated.

Gro-Masters is a $1.2 million company with a 20 percent commercial and 80 percent residential clientele.

Tootle explains that because his region is all high-fertility, warm-season turf, an aggressive lawn care plan might have his technicians applying fertilizer at 6 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet — too aggressive a rate for quick-release fertilizer.

“Then you’re really going to risk burning the properties (with quick-release fertilizers),” Tootle says. “So that’s where the controlled-release comes in for us. This allows us to continue to be aggressive during the hottest months of the growing season.”

Here, Tootle and Rowan share with us what lawn care operators (LCOs) should know about controlled-release fertilizer applications.

Controlled-release fertilizer may be easier on your equipment. According to Rowan, the salt component of non-controlled-release fertilizer oxidizes and creates rust on the equipment faster than controlled-release fertilizer. With fewer applications, there is less wear and tear on spreading equipment.

Fewer applications = fewer visits = less stress on employees. A controlled-release fertilizer can significantly reduce the number of applications. For example, with a 120-day controlled-release product, LCOs can reduce required applications by two or three a year, allowing the LCO to have a robust customer base and visit those properties less often, Rowan says.

Anticipate your options. “We put a lot of forethought in what the situation may be, and will pre-price multiple options,” Tootle says. His company also tries to understand the lead time the vendors need if their controlled-release fertilizers are going to be a custom-blended product.

Be smart about your applications. “An LCO might look at the cost of a bag and let it be a real barrier for them to spend $2 a bag more for one technology over another,” Rowan says. “But then they won’t calibrate their equipment and potentially put down 20 percent more product and completely offset savings.” Proper application, proper rates and proper calibration of equipment are key.

Pay attention to weather and environmental factors. Rain and irrigation impact the availability of the nitrogen and the fertilizer’s release rate. Rowan recommends that LCOs consider environmental factors when they’re choosing a controlled-release fertilizer and use it accordingly.

Use your suppliers as resources. Tootle recommends asking what products suppliers would be able to custom blend, and to tailor the questions to potential outcomes that may arise. For example, “Should I see (this symptom), how quickly can you react?”

Educate your customers and your staff. Gro-Masters tries to be upfront, so that the client understands that the company is using products in the licensed ways, and that the products are going to produce the results the client asked for. The company also ensures staff is fully trained on safety each time they change products.

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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