John Noyce, Scotts area sales manager (Southern England), Turf & Amenity, looks at the factors turf managers should consider when choosing turfcare products.
These days, turf managers have access to an incredibly wide and varied range of products to help in the daily maintenance of all types of surfaces, from the fine turf of golf and bowls, to sports turf such as football and rugby pitches. Most products provide extremely good results when applied correctly and undergo many years of expensive research and development before they can be launched onto the market.
My role at Scotts is to help and support the decision-making process of end-users regarding product selection. Working closely with these customers, there are a number of criteria to consider before recommendations can be made.
Cost of product and budget available
The aim is to provide the best product in terms of not only price but also technical performance. Products which are perceived to be expensive generally work out better value for money when compared with cheaper products because of their improved granulation, longevity, higher nutrient analysis, lower application rates and lower scorch potential.
This needs to be relevant to the area of use - for example I wouldn't recommend a coated controlled release granular fertiliser for a surface that is subject to heavy rolling, such as a cricket wicket, where the granule would be severely damaged. This would be a complete waste of money and produce very poor results for this specific turf area. It could also cause scorch problems if the granule is crushed into the sward.
In the case of fertilisers, the turf manager needs to consider whether to use controlled release (coated), slow release, conventional release, liquids or water-soluble products, applied either on their own or used in combination, depending on the time of year, weather, soil conditions, height-of-cut, and sporting fixtures.
Most turf managers involved in, for example, fine turf maintenance, typically use granular products based on ammonium sulphate for early spring application, when soil temperatures are still low after the winter period. They then switch to liquid fertilizers once the soil temperature is above 12°C.
Liquid feeds and also water-soluble fertilisers provide an almost unbeatable 'spoon feeding' fertiliser regime when used in conjunction with modern plant growth regulators. This eliminates peaks and troughs of growth during the growing season, provides consistent speeds on surfaces such as golf and bowling greens, and reduces the nutrient requirements for all turf. It forms part of the practical sustainability directive now being driven by organisations such as the R&A and STRI.
Coated products are suitable for areas such as golf tees, fairways and sports pitches where cutting heights are over 10mm, to minimise granule coating damage. Other product considerations might be to compare the safety of nutrient sources of each brand available. This may involve consulting a salt index chart to determine which product to use. We usually recommends using acidic fertilisers to discourage worm activity, unless the pH is very low.
Potassium chloride has a high salt index level of 116 and a higher scorch potential compared with potassium sulphate, which has a level of 43, and is therefore less likely to scorch. Ammonium nitrate as a nitrogen source has a salt index of 104 compared with ammonium sulphate at 69 - the latter is also less likely to scorch turf when applied.
These salt index charts are extremely useful and are available in all good turf technical books. When talking to company sales representatives, don't be afraid to ask some pertinent questions when experiencing their 'sales pitch'. Ask how long they have been in the trade, what qualifications they have, and if they are BASIS qualified and registered - a legal requirement when recommending products such as fungicides, herbicides and insecticides.
FACTS qualifications may not yet be mandatory in our industry, but, in my opinion, they are desirable when selling fertilisers. They demonstrate that the salesperson has undergone a recognised course of instruction and examination. Also, ask to see trials data on the products they are selling. Is the information specific to UK conditions, where and when were they trialled and for how long? And ask about the availability of end-user trials testimonials. Does the supplier or manufacturer have their own research and development facilities, if so can a visit be arranged?
Use an independent laboratory to carry out a soil analysis for your turf areas before embarking on any purchases. Base your purchasing decisions on fact, because this is the only way to achieve value for money when buying products. Use the analysis report as a guide only - it is no substitute for practical experience and sound turf management practices, but it should form part of the decision-making process.
Scotts Professional is a major research and development fertiliser manufacturer and turf solution provider with one of the largest trials facilities in Europe, located at Levington, near Ipswich, Suffolk. Visits by parties of greenkeepers, groundsman or students can be arranged on request.