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Protect your Turf: Dedicated to dirt

November 10, 2020 -  By
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Person spraying lawn (Photo: Natural State Horticare)

Natural State Horticare uses Earthworks carbon-based liquid fertilizers to enrich soils and improve turf health. (Photo: Natural State Horticare)

When it comes to lawn care, lawn care operator (LCO) Andrew Kenley likes to think of soil in terms of dollars and cents.

“When you invest in the soil, you can think about it like a bank account,” he says. “Our premise has been let’s put back into the soil what we take out and then some.”

He uses carbon-based liquid and granular fertilizers from Earthworks to add carbon, provide organically derived nutrients and minerals, and promote the proliferation of microbial life in the soil.

Kenley says that creating this microbial environment enriches the soil and creates naturally beneficial topsoil.

“It holds water and nutrients better. It mineralizes nitrogen faster,” he says. He reports that because the organic products promote a more diverse ecosystem in the soil, his herbicides work better, and he sees lower instances of fungus and pests.

Kenley’s company, Natural State Horticare, is based in Little Rock, Ark. The company has a revenue of $600,000 and provides lawn care services to a mostly residential clientele.

Since starting the company in 2012, he’s focused on organic products. “We saw a hole in the market. Not to demonize chemicals, but we want to choose the best and the safest options and also focus on the soil.”

Testing, testing

Joel Simmons, president at Earthworks, recommends lawn care operators looking to manage their soils should kick off the process with a soil test.

“The soil test will tell you what your calcium and magnesium ratios are,” he says. “If calcium is out of balance, the soil becomes very tight and compacted.”

By balancing those ratios, the soil begins to open up for more air and water, and LCOs will find significantly better recovery and survivability of planting material, deeper and stronger rooting, and the turf will require fewer inputs, because the soil is going to do the work of feeding the plant, Simmons says.

Time is money

Feeding the turf with bio-based fertilizers is also a main goal of John Fowler, vice president of sales for the turf division, Anuvia Plant Nutrients. He happens to look at lawn care from two different perspectives, since he’s also the owner of Amazing Grass, which provides lawn care to 85 percent residential clients in the Baltimore area.

Fowler says that bio-based fertilizers add nitrogen and are a good source of iron. They also add sulfur, a key component to good soil. He says he’s often asked what the upsides are of bio-based fertilizers.

“The nutrients are immediately available,” he explains. “What would take years to get to the nutrients and amino acids of a manure application, we’re getting to in 12 minutes through our reaction process and turning them into something that is useful for the soil.”

Fix the soil

“I don’t want to own a company that just makes money,” says Justin Berg, president, Purple Care. “Bio-based products are better for the earth, better for our soil and the plants that grow in them.”

Purple Care is based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company has $6 million in revenue and offers lawn care, maintenance and pest control services to primarily residential clients.

Berg uses bio-based fertilizers because they won’t burn turf in Texas’ high temperatures, and the results are longer lasting.

“When you use synthetic NPK fertilizers, it’s pretty much gone within 60 days,” he says. “With these, the product stays behind, the green stays longer and we can trust the overall health of our grass.”

Berg concedes that going the organic, bio-based route costs more — about double the price, but it’s also allowed him to save on nitrogen, where he’s reduced his costs by 25 percent.

“When you go with a bio product, you’re able to balance the soil without having to use a ton of nitrogen,” he says. “Fix the soil, and you’ll fix a lot of things.”

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing 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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