Differentiating between controlled release and slow release fertilisers

Understanding the benefits and differences between controlled and slow release fertilisers for effective turf management.

May 7, 2024
2 mins

In the context of turf management, understanding the distinctions between controlled release fertilisers (CRFs) and slow release fertilisers (SRFs) is crucial for selecting the appropriate nutrient management strategy.

Both types of fertilisers can mitigate some of the challenges associated with immediate-release formulations, but they operate based on different principles and offer distinct benefits.

Controlled Release Fertilisers (CRFs)

Controlled release fertilisers are engineered to deliver nutrients in a predictable and controlled manner.

Each granule of a CRF is coated with a semi-permeable membrane, which regulates the rate at which water enters the granule and thus controls the rate of nutrient release. This release rate is not merely slower but is precisely timed to match the nutrient uptake dynamics of the turf, which depends largely on soil temperature.

The primary advantages of CRFs are:

  • Precision in Nutrient Delivery: CRFs provide nutrients at a consistent rate that matches the growth needs of the turf, leading to optimal growth and health.
  • Reduced Environmental Impact: By minimising nutrient leaching and runoff, CRFs help preserve water quality and reduce the environmental footprint of turf management.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Although initially more expensive, CRFs reduce the need for frequent reapplication, thus saving on labour and material costs over time.

Slow Release Fertilisers (SRFs)

In contrast, slow release fertilisers release nutrients at a slower pace than conventional fertilisers but do not offer the same control over the release rate and timing as CRFs.

The nutrient release from SRFs is primarily governed by factors such as soil moisture, microbial activity, and temperature. These factors can lead to variability in nutrient availability, which may not always align with the turf’s nutritional needs.

Key characteristics of SRFs include:

  • Dependency on Environmental Conditions: Since the breakdown of SRFs relies on biological and chemical processes in the soil, their effectiveness can be unpredictable, particularly in climates with significant temperature and moisture fluctuations.
  • Potential for Nutrient Losses: Without the precise control over nutrient release, there is a higher potential for nutrient losses, either through leaching or volatilisation, especially during periods of suboptimal environmental conditions.


While both CRFs and SRFs offer benefits over conventional fertilisers by extending nutrient availability and reducing application frequency, CRFs are generally more suitable for scenarios where precision and control over nutrient release are necessary.

This is particularly relevant in professional turf management, where maintaining the health and appearance of the grass is imperative, and environmental stewardship is increasingly prioritised.

Choosing between CRFs and SRFs ultimately depends on the specific requirements of the turf, the environmental conditions of the site, and the management goals of the facility.

For those managing high-quality turf, such as golf courses or sports pitches, CRFs often represent a more reliable and sustainable option, aligning closely with the precision and environmental considerations critical to modern turf management practices.