Crop steering with CRF and WSF collaborations

The right combination of these two fertilizer types can raise your plants to new heights.

4 mins

On their own, controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs) and water-soluble fertilizers (WSFs) can both bring out excellence in your ornamental crops. But when powerhouses like our Osmocote Plus CRFs and Peters Professional WSFs collaborate, they can deliver unmatched results.

Complementing your CRF program with strategic water-soluble applications throughout the growing season can enable you to guide your crops to meet specific goals. Call it “crop steering” or savvy fertilization techniques, your crops and your profitability can benefit.

Crop steering, straight and simple

From crop to crop—and continent to continent—the term “crop steering” can have different meanings for different growers. But the underlying idea behind this strategy is the same.  

Ian Bateman, our Western Region Territory Manager, says he’s a big fan of “maximal nutrition use efficiency achieved through CRF and crops steering goals, finely tuned and augmented with a water-soluble fertilizer platform.” He likes to keep crop steering’s definition simple.

“There are cues—environmental or physical, for instance—that we as growers can employ to guide the plant,” he explains. “We can affect that through irrigation management, through specific nutrients and timing, through the proportions of different nutrients you give to your plants over the season. It can also mean manipulating your environmental setpoints to get the plants to grow a certain way.”

While you may not call it crop steering, many ornamental growers practice this strategy in some way, especially if our ICL Growing Solutions team lends a hand. Fertilizer programs can be designed to deliver nutrients via CRFs and WSFs in strategic ways at strategic times, with specific outcomes in mind. But as plant nutrition and growing technologies advance, it pays to take another look at steering plants.

Getting started steering crops

As most of you ornamental growers know, we recommend adding a base rate of Osmocote (at least 75%) to your growing medium. With Osmocote CRFs in your mix, you can trust your plants will get a steady and continuous supply of essential nutrients all season long—even in periods with excessive rainfall. Your CRF provides the foundation and flexibility that allows you to steer your plants toward specific goals.

But when you complement your CRF with water-soluble fertilizers, based on crop requirements during each growth stage, that’s when the magic can happen. Whatever your goals—to promote rooting, generate growth, or promote flowering, the right CRF-WSF combination can help you achieve all these thing . Water solubles can complete your plants’ nutritional needs and trigger specific plant responses, with your growing goals in mind. You get ultimate nutritional flexibility, while ensuring your crops get the essentials along the way.

Of course, crop steering is simpler when you grow just a few varieties of plants, instead of the hundreds of varieties some ornamental operations grow. “With limited plant varieties, it’s relatively easy to time your fertilizer applications to achieve your crop steering goals,” Ian says. For large, diversified growers, fertilizer applications are more general—just by virtue of the many different varieties involved. But that doesn’t mean you can’t steer growth.

Opportunities for guided growth

Ian points out that ornamental growers face a balancing act to fulfill customer wants and needs. “The plants are judged based on their visual appeal. So what can we do to improve that visual appeal? They also have to be of a certain size, so you’re balancing all these different things,” he says. That’s where steering your crops can shine.

Simple crop steering examples for the ornamental market include coming in early with higher nitrogen fertilizer to get plants to a certain size, then manipulating the level of phosphorus in your nutrient to regulate plant height.

“If we want a plant that’s nice and leggy, that has room for lots of flower sites, for instance, you may want a higher phosphorus fertilizer. If we want a plant to be really nice and squat, like a nice bedding plant, we don’t need the same phosphorus load,” Ian explains. “Now when plants start to flower, we want lots of nice color, for instance. Well, it might be a good idea to up the micronutrient load in the plant, maybe up the potassium in the nutrient program, to get those flowers to really pop and show a lot of color.”

For large operations that, by necessity, require a more general approach, tailored WSF applications can step in to complement CRFs on specific crops hungry for extra nutrients or needing a boost.

With an ICL Growing Solutions CRF-WSF collaboration at work in your operation, you can steer your ornamental crops for results that eluded you before. Our team of local plant nutrition experts can help you choose the right vehicles to do just that. So give us a call, whether you want general fertilizer advice or a crop steering strategy—or you just want to shoot the breeze. We’re here to help you achieve.