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Could Cheap Fertilizer Be Ruining Your Lawns

March 7, 2017 | Categories:
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November 07, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Earlier this year, I had a request for a fertilizer that blew me away. A man up in New England was looking for a lower cost product, which could combine a lime product with fertilizer, so that he could kill two birds with one stone (billing two services in one treatment). I said sure, it’s quite simple: I could custom blend him a lower nitrogen analysis that was 50% filler. The filler we use is calcitic lime, so I said you are basically accomplishing exactly what you are trying to do at a price point that works for your budget. This situation got me thinking, though.

Unlike New England, here in the Midwest and Northeast Ohio specifically, we generally don’t have low pH issues. It’s usually the opposite. I have never been a fan of blanket lime applications because almost every lawn/soil test doesn’t need it. But there is hidden lime we don’t even think about.

Building a fertilizer is a lot like baking a cake. We take several ingredients and mix them together in specific ratios to get the desired guaranteed analysis on the bag. But each of those numbers on the bag is a percentage of the total weight in the bag, so what makes the difference? Well, for starters, N is expressed as the percentage of elemental nitrogen, so a bag of 46-0-0 (100% urea) is 46% nitrogen.

That means a 50# bag of 30-0-4 30% XCU with Armament will contain 32.6 pounds of urea. It also contains a little over 3 pounds of potassium chloride. That leaves another 15 pounds of weight in the bag that is unaccounted for, so what is it? The additional weight is made up of various inert ingredients, like the sulfur or polymer coating on the urea, but usually the other main ingredient is limestone “filler.” The limestone filler is used to fill out the weight of the bag.

When the commodity market went crazy in 2008 and 2009, everyone was looking for ways to reduce costs. The first thing to go was phosphorus, then slow-release, and finally, the nitrogen itself suffered. This trend continued for several years. To this day, many companies choose to continue to use less expensive and lower analysis products.

However, I believe there is a price that has been paid. Significant amounts of limestone have now been applied to properties that didn’t need it, which I believe is altering the chemistry of those lawns. To make matters worse, this lime will chemically react with available phosphorus, iron, manganese, and countless other vital nutrients necessary for optimal turf health.

I see it in soil tests showing high pH, high calcium and magnesium, low or declining phosphorus, and declining micronutrients. The turf generally looks thin, weak, yellow, and is often riddled with disease throughout the year. In addition, no amount of nitrogen seems to alleviate the symptoms and any gain is short-lived. So what do you do?

#1 – Stop using cheap fertilizer. Start using balanced and higher nitrogen products, like 22-3-11 50% XCU, 25-3-10 88% XCU, 30-0-6 50% XCU and 33-3-6 50% XCU with a higher percentage of controlled release technology. Use organic bridge products, like Healthy Grow 10-3-2, which use an organic poultry base instead of lime filler.

#2 – Use fertilizers with our Armament ZnB technology. Armament ZnB will complex with and protect essential nutrients from the harmful effects of excess lime, making these nutrients available to the plant.

#3 – Soil test, soil test, soil test! Any questionable lawn should be checked and supplemental applications, like lime or sulfur, should be made ONLY if the test warrants it.

So you may be wondering, “what do I do if I currently offer lime applications and have done them for years?” We have many options to consider that may be cost-effective alternatives to liming.

One great alternative I can think of is Holganix PB1 LTO. It is a biostimulant and bionutritional product that has too many benefits to name. Second to that, we have so many products in our Foliar-Pak lineup that will all provide benefits to your lawns. If you want a granular option, consider using products, like Humic DG, Naturesafe 10-2-8, or the Healthy Grow lineup. All of these are high in organic matter and will promote beneficial biology in the soil.

If you must lime, consider using a calcitic lime, like our Supercal, instead of dolomitic lime. It will do the same job at lower rates and is short-acting, so it won’t chemically alter the soil for decades to come.

We are all looking for ways to improve our own personal health and vitality with more natural alternatives and an active lifestyle. As a result, the health food, fitness, and supplement industries have exploded. I see more vitamin stores now than pharmacies and now almost every major retailer offers product lines in these categories as well. I really feel like we as an industry are missing a golden opportunity to ride the wave here.

Advanced Turf Solutions is leading the way with a larger selection of healthy alternatives than any other supplier. In addition, we are directly developing and researching more products that fit this category. To my knowledge, there is no other supplier or major manufacturer doing this to the extent we already have.

Sam Weil
ATS Sales Representative