How to work with controlled-release fertilizers

June 15, 2022 -  By
Experts say controlled-release fertilizers don’t leach or volatilize as quickly as regular fertilizers, making them a more environmentally friendly option. (Photo: Green Group)

Experts say controlled-release fertilizers don’t leach or volatilize as quickly as regular fertilizers, making them a more environmentally friendly option. (Photo: Green Group)

To provide more flexibility with applications and reduce overall labor costs, many lawn professionals turn to enhanced-efficiency and controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs).

Instead of using a traditional fertilizer program with three or more applications, companies can use these products for a single application —meaning fewer products in storage, few site visits, less fuel used and fewer chances for weather interruptions. Experts say CRFs also don’t leach or volatilize as quickly as regular fertilizers.

To get the most from these fertilizers, experts suggest following these tips.


Reach out to the local Extension office. Extension agents can recommend the best time of year to apply fertilizers based on the location, says Chris Lemaster, field manager for Green Group, a lawn care company based in Tulsa, Okla.

Educate the customer. “High-end products have a lot of technology and cost more,” says Chuck Barber, vice president of customer accounts, specialty, for Anuvia Plant Nutrients. “Overall, the benefits outweigh the little extra money you’re spending.”

Establish and evaluate plans. “I always recommend to take the hardest property that is the farthest from your office to evaluate first, then the overall benefits of CRF become clear quickly,” says Bill Abetz, director of turf and ornamentals for Pursell Agri-Tech.

Use on properties without irrigation. “Controlled-release products are great for properties that rely on nature for water rather than an irrigation system,” says Benjamin Allen, vice president, Midwest region for Green Group.

Start with commercial properties. “Consumers don’t typically want to see a guy with a spreader bouncing fertilizer off cars or in parking lots,” Abetz says. “These properties are perfect for a single fertilizer application and evaluation.”

Know your zone. “In the transition zone, sometimes people make two applications — one for the spring/warm-season grasses and another for the fall/winter for the cool-season grasses,” Abetz says.

Note the rate will be higher. “You’re applying fertilizer for the entire growing season, depending on analysis and desired annual nitrogen requirements,” Abetz says. “Rates can range from 250 to 500 lbs. per acre.”

Watch your budget. “These can be more expensive,” Allen says. “If not properly calibrated and applied, you can waste money quickly.”


Worry if the grass doesn’t initially green up. “Because the plant isn’t getting as much uncoated nitrogen at the initial application, it may not appear as green as normal,” Abetz says. “This difference is usually gone in about two to three weeks.”

Assume all products are the same. “Some technologies rely on moisture and temperature, and some rely on microbial activity,” Lemaster says. “Choosing the correct one can have an impact on what you are trying to accomplish.”

Be inconsistent. “Bouncing back and forth from a quick-release product to a slow-release product won’t hurt your turf, but it will create those spikes in color and growth that we are trying to avoid,” Allen says.

Fail to communicate. “Unclear or inconsistent communication with customers can be an issue, especially on a commercial property where there is a contract for a certain number of applications,” Abetz says.

Overapply nutrients. “The turfgrass won’t be able to utilize that amount, so it could be wasted or leached away,” Barber says.

Compare the cost. “This initial comparison has always been the biggest objection to considering CRF. In the case of CRF, to evaluate the true costs, you must consider all the other benefits CRF provides,” Abetz says.

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