Fall Fertilizer- No Skipping or Skimping!


Ok, let’s be honest…fertilizer prices have gone nuts throughout the entire season, creating yet another unexpected challenge to managing your golf course.  The quick fixes of downgrading products and reducing the overall number of acres are not long-term strategies for healthy turf.  With Fall now upon us, I urge you all to not skip or skimp on this critical application.

While we all know this, it bares repeating for the sake of emphasizing the agronomic necessity of a full blown, nutrient application while the leaves are starting to turn color and the weather condition is optimal for growing cool-season turf.

The focus of fall fertilization is on rejuvenating and recouping that turf ahead of Winter and the following Spring.  It’s one of the biggest factors that dictates the ultimate health of the plant going into dormancy and how it emerges in the Spring ready for another season.  In short, it improves the overall health, increases the density and vigor and extends the green color of the turf.  Most importantly, the plant’s physiology is transitioning from an actively growing state to one where it’s storing carbohydrates for later use as an energy source.  By fertilizing turf in the fall, you’re providing it with nutrients it can store away for the next growing season.

Depending on the makeup of your specific nutrient program that you’ve tailored for your course, you may be starting earlier or later in the Fall.  This timing will impact the nutrient type needed to get the results you’re trying to achieve.  

In early Fall, utilizing slow-release nitrogen sources will always get you reliably predictable results.  The microbes in the soil are still active enough to feed the turf to sustain active growth and start packing away some carbohydrates for later use.  A nicely balanced fertilizer can yield the results you need to get.

In late Fall, you’re going to need to switch over to more quick release sources that will be immediately available to the plant.  Often times, this strategy can employ multiple application of “spoon feeding” shots to get the turf plant ready for dormancy.  

It’s noteworthy to mention that an emerging trend is to utilize water-soluble nutrient sources and applying them as liquids.  This tactic is more commonly being seen on greens but is also being used on tees and fairways in the right circumstance.

One last recommendation that I’d like to offer is that you perform a soil test before building your Fall application strategy.  Considering the gravity of the situation, having a complete understanding on what you need and don’t need will allow you to further dial in the precise nutrients you need, while still allowing you the opportunity to address it in time.

Yes, 2021 was exceptionally challenging for multiple reasons.  Unfortunately, turf doesn’t understand any of that…it only knows what it needs to thrive and perform it’s best.  The Fall fertilizer application will lay the foundation for the 2022 season in terms of plant and soil health.  Any decision to skip or skimp of this vital nutrient application simply seems like a bad gamble that’s not worth taking.

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