ASK THE EXPERTS: Industry professionals offer advice on how to develop an efficient, effective lawn care program
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ASK THE EXPERTS: Industry professionals offer advice on how to develop an efficient, effective lawn care program

Lawn care operators have many decisions to make when developing their fertilizer programs. From application methods to product options, it’s important to make the right choices that will help provide your customers with healthy, attractive lawns.

Enhanced efficiency options

Based in Maryland, Scientific Plant Services offers plant health care, commercial and residential fertilization and insect, weed and disease control, among other services. About 10 years ago, the company switched to POLYON®, a controlled-release, enhanced efficiency fertilizer from Koch Turf & Ornamental. President Brian Haga says the change has resulted in significant labor savings.

“It eliminated a lot – a lot of bag handling, a lot of wear and tear on the trucks and hours on the spreaders,” Haga says. “We’re also putting down less fertilizer because of POLYON’s enhanced efficiency, so everything kind of worked out.”

Scientific Plant Services used to apply fertilizers twice in the fall – once in September and then again in mid-October. Now, they apply 0.9 lbs. of POLYON in the spring and 1.5 lbs. in the fall on residential properties. Commercial customers and sports fields get a single 2.5-lb application of POLYON in the fall. Overall, switching to the enhanced efficiency fertilizer has freed up four to five weeks of work for 75 percent of the staff.

Jack Harrell III is senior vice president of R & D, sales and marketing at Harrell’s, a distributor of POLYON and other fertilizer products and programs. He says enhanced efficiency fertilizers don’t have to reduce the number of visits LCOs make to their customers’ properties each year. Instead, by using enhanced efficiency fertilizers, LCOs can reduce the number of visits during which they apply fertilizer, freeing those visits up to perform other services and increase their value to customers.

“So, instead of fertilizing each of the six times they visit a property, LCOs can apply fertilizer on just two or three of those visits, depending on what fertilizer program we come up with,” Harrell says. “Then, on those remaining visits, LCOs can perform weed treatments or insect treatments, improving labor efficiency and profit potential.”

Enhanced efficiency fertilizers can also keep lawns greener longer and avoid flush growth, while increasing nutrient uptake and lowering the potential for nutrient losses to the environment.

“Koch’s enhanced efficiency fertilizers stay in the soil longer, releasing nitrogen over time,” Harrell says. “As a result, plants can uptake nitrogen as they need it. And, their longevity also makes these technologies more environmentally responsible with a low potential for nutrient denitrification, runoff or volatilization.”

While choosing an efficient fertilizer is certainly important, Haga and his team at Scientific Plant Services recommend soil testing before applying any fertilizer to ensure that the grass will have all the nutrition it needs to succeed.

"We recommend soil testing for all new clients, and I’d say at least 80 percent agree to have a soil test," he says. "Once that’s done, if there are pH, potassium or phosphorus issues, we’re able to address them before they become bigger problems."

The company then recommends re-testing soil every three to four years on an ongoing basis.

Multiple efficiencies

Rodney St. John is an agronomist and a former professor at Kansas State University who now holds the title of vice president, director of agronomy and environmental stewardship at Ryan Lawn & Tree, a lawn care company with locations in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Part of St. John’s job is to evaluate different fertilizer products and determine the correct rate to apply the chosen product. He also trains the staff as a group before every round to make sure the correct rate is understood and to ensure maximum turf health while protecting the environment.

“It’s easy to do the math with granular,” St. John says. “You know so many pounds cover so many square feet – with liquid, the math is a little more complicated. However, granular’s main benefit is its release time; most liquids only feed the turf for a short while, whereas granular fertilizers can last up to 16 weeks, depending on the type of polymer-coated fertilizer we use.”

Lawn care technicians often use mechanical equipment to apply granular fertilizer, and ensuring they’ve been properly trained on how to use that equipment is a must.

“Otherwise, it’s possible for the technicians to put the fertilizer down at an improper rate or unevenly,” St. John says. “And, that can lead to waste, increased cost, damage to the lawn and even inefficiencies like having to take the extra time to clear it from our clients’ sidewalks and driveways.”

Some granular products, like Koch Turf & Ornamental’s UMAXX® stabilized nitrogen fertilizer, are water soluble. By tank mixing these water soluble fertilizers with turfgrass protection chemicals, including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, LCOs can basically perform multiple services at the same time for even greater efficiency.

“We all know that time is money,” Jack Harrell adds. “That’s why we work with our LCOs to come up with the right fertilizer programs to fit their business models and their customers’ needs. Regardless of how many customer site visits their particular lawn care program includes, we provide them with enhanced efficiency fertilizer options that can help them save time and labor while improving their bottom lines.”