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The 411 on controlled-release fertilizers

December 17, 2021 -  By

To reduce the loss of nutrients to the environment and improve turf health, many lawn care operators (LCOs) turn to enhanced-efficiency products like controlled-release fertilizers.

Reduce turf stress

Controlled-release fertilizers help improve turf health and reduce nutrient loss. (Photo: Yards Done Right)

Controlled-release fertilizers help improve turf health and reduce nutrient loss. (Photo: Yards Done Right)

Controlled-release fertilizers provide a steadier feeding and also limit leaching in areas with heavy rainfall, says Jim Beveridge, owner of Yards Done Right in Westlake, Ohio. He tends to use them going into times of higher temperatures.

“We want a more gradual or slower feeding as the heat ramps up to avoid burning or stressing the lawns out,” Beveridge says. “We generally don’t use them on our first and last applications because of the cool spring and fall temperatures here — and the added cost.”

His company provides lawn fertilization, weed control, tree and shrub insect/disease control, tree and shrub fertilization and organic topdressing services. With an annual revenue of $275,000, his customers are about 95 percent residential and 5 percent other.

He says these fertilizers also offer greater flexibility with the application windows, as well as the ability to compensate for rainy periods or prolonged droughts.

“We can literally tweak our mix from day to day,” Beveridge says. “Controlled-release fertilizers are also very beneficial to the environment with less leaching and volatility.”

Experts say it’s best to spread out applications and monitor weather patterns to adjust applications to avoid rainstorms.

“I know companies that will apply one or two applications of extended-release nitrogen fertilizers annually. This works for some business models, but our model is one of being on the properties more often to deal with any other issues that may arise,” Beveridge says. “So, it’s nice to have an array of different products in our toolbox. Obviously, if you need something for a quicker green-up, you wouldn’t reach for a controlled-release product.”

Avoid waste

Controlled-release products are beneficial during high temperatures as they avoid burning turf out. (Photo: Weed Man)

Controlled-release products are beneficial during high temperatures as they avoid burning turf out. (Photo: Weed Man)

While controlled-release fertilizers are more expensive than traditional fertilizers, operators should be asking themselves when — not if — they should add controlled-release fertilizers to their lineup, says Brad DeBels, vice president of operations at Weed Man in Madison, Wis.

Weed Man Madison offers lawn care, pest control and mosquito control services. Its customers are about 95 percent residential, and the company’s annual revenue is $200 million. Operators get more for their money because they aren’t losing product that’s wasted with leaching, DeBels says.

“The product only releases the appropriate amount of fertilizer that the plant can absorb, so you aren’t wasting product or money,” he says.

Added benefits

In addition to achieving healthier, better-looking lawns, controlled-release products can help owners combat labor shortage issues because they don’t need to be applied as often. DeBels says his technicians will rarely be on a site every week or two, so using the controlled-release fertilizers help ensure the nutrients are being used appropriately without additional visits.

“The product can last anywhere from one to two months to three or four months. Some quick-release items last a few weeks,” he says. “For us, it’s about time management. The product is more expensive, but it feeds the lawn for a longer amount of time, and putting it down doesn’t take any more time or labor than the quick-release.”

Before making a purchase, DeBels says he looks at the quality of the fertilizer — including the nitrogen content — to ensure it’s up to Weed Man’s standard and will work for his clients’ needs.

“We buy into controlled-release fertilizers because they’re better for the environment and client,” DeBels says. “It’s one of our primary value-added opportunities. We let people know we’re going to do what’s best for the environment and their pocketbooks.”

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