The importance of golf green fertiliser programmes

Spend it well

April 7, 2021
3 mins
Henry Bechelet
ICL Turf & Landscape Technical Manager

Fertiliser programmes are central to all our greens maintenance plans. It is vitally important that our nutrition is efficient, and we use it with a clear understanding of how to maintain turf health and growth responses. It is essential that our fertiliser programmes are fully supporting our agronomic goals of playing quality and year-round performance. 

Our annual nitrogen inputs or “nitrogen budget” is simply how much we intend to use during the year.Nitrogen inputs are usually expressed in the UK and Ireland as kg N / ha / year. This is easily calculated but that is not to say that unintentional errors or convenient omissions aren’t sometimes made. This is an area that can give rise to a temptation to kid ourselves, which is never good.  

We calculate our annual nitrogen budgets primarily to make sure that we are operating within a defined target range and not unwittingly over- or under-doing it. Nitrogen is the key nutrient and too much or too little can cause far-reaching agronomic problems. We all know that this is something that we need to get right.

The first thing to say about annual nitrogen budgets is that they are not the “be all and end all”. It is just the annual target or total that you are working towards, and it is quite a limited concept if considered in isolation.Fundamentally, it doesn’t tell you how you spent your budget throughout the year, which is more important. This is because you will need to be supporting the maintenance plan with different levels of nitrogen throughout the year depending on the level of growth required. It is important to set a nitrogen target, but it is more important to spend it well. 

We build a fertiliser planbased on experience and review. We need it to support our agronomic objectives and still land us close to the annual target. As an agronomist or turf manager we take each situation as it comes and build for our individual requirements. We review past performance to decide if adjustments to the existing plan are needed. 

The annual target figure will be influenced by several factors such as past performance, grass species, rootzone type, environmental conditions, intensity of maintenance or the standards required throughout the year. The way in which the nitrogen is actually allocated during the year will be influenced by the timing of significant maintenance operations and other important calendar events. This is why everywhere is different. 

As a generalisation, parkland courses with annual meadow-grass dominated swards in the UK and Ireland might be applying in the region of 100-120 kg N / ha / year.  Creeping bentgrass and red fescue greens would be needing 80% – 50% less but each course would have their own individual targets. We actually prefer to think in terms of kg N / ha / week if we are wanting to orchestrate specific growth responses at particular times. 

In an example programme for the calendar year, we might think to deliver (on average) 1 kg N / ha / week through weeks 1-12 just to keep the turf from deteriorating under play during the winter.  

We could then go up to 5 kg N / ha / week through weeks 13-18 for a growth responseto get through our early spring recovery, top dressings and preparations (an application of Greenmaster Pro-Lite Cold Start 11-5-5 +8Fe @ 25 g/m2 would deliver 28 kg N / ha over 6 weeks).  

Through weeks 19 – 40 we generally settle into a liquid programme delivering around 2 kg N / ha / week. Extra may be needed at times to reduce the risk of Anthracnose, for instance, as the pressure from those surface preparations builds. 

We could then deliver 3-4 kg N / ha / week to generate an increased growth response through weeks 40-44 to get through an autumn renovation schedule involving heavy top dressing.  

For the remainder of the year (weeks 45-52) we might settle back to 2 kg N / ha / week to maintain plant health and contribute positively to our autumn ITM programme. 

You can see from the example that we are always scheduling the amount of nitrogen to meet our agronomic goals. This programme would deliver around 110 kg N / ha / year but your own requirements might be different. Have a chat with our team if you want help with this type of bespoke scheduling. We don’t just want you to spend your budget, we want you to spend it well.