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Good Plant Health Depends On The Right Nutrients

While many are under the impression that fertilization is not a necessity, the truth is that if you want to get the greatest health and longevity out of your plants, trees and turf, you need to ensure they’re receiving the right nutrients.

Because fertilizer is a key piece of a complete plant health program, we sat down with our very own expert on horticulture and agronomy, Greg Hutson, so we could share his wisdom.

U.S. Lawns Franchisee Advisor Greg Hutson Shares His Expertise

In 2006, we were fortunate that Greg chose to join the U.S. Lawns family, and he’s been advising U.S. Lawns franchisees from coast to coast ever since. But prior to that, Hutson earned his degree from Mississippi State University, where he studied agronomy, entomology, golf course operations and turf grass in a six-year program. Then, he immediately put his extensive education to good use, building, growing and managing golf courses.

To say he’s experienced is an understatement, as, according to Greg, “I was in the golf course business for a little over 20 years. Golf courses are highly maintained facilities, so there’s not much I haven’t done with the control products–fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides, so I feel like I’m an expert–I mean that’s what the whole job is basically, growing turf and managing it to playability, so you really have to understand turf grasses, fertilizers and the soil to be successful in that industry.” And not only does he understand all of this at a very deep level, but he’s also well-versed in irrigation and has literally created golf greens, from the drains and pea gravel all the way up.

Defining Integrated Pest Management

Because of all his industry experience, Hutson is incredibly knowledgeable in IPM (Integrated Pest Management), which, as defined by the USDA is “a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks.”

Because of this, he is able to provide invaluable guidance to U.S. Lawns franchise owner-operators, which translates to healthier grass, trees, shrubs and flowers, higher environmental sustainability, stronger customer loyalty and a more beautiful community, all of which are part of the U.S. Lawns mission.

Understanding The Impact Of IPM

So exactly how does incorporating IPM into your landscaping plan make a difference? Well, simply stated, it ensures the health of the landscape elements while minimizing the use of products and practices that can create risks to health and the environment.

As Greg explained, “A healthy, growing turf creates a barrier for weeds; I mean you immediately see it when there’s bare dirt, what’s going to grow there? A weed. It’s going to be the first thing that germinates because weeds will germinate in compacted soils, clay soils, wet soils–that’s why they’re a weed, because they can grow anywhere. So, a good, professional agronomic program is the best defense against weeds and disease.”

Maintaining a healthy landscape truly starts with understanding what your grass and other greenery really needs to grow and thrive, and believe it or not, knowing your soil is critical to the process.

The Soil Is Where It All Begins

The first step in figuring out what existing plantings need as well as determining which types of grass, trees, plants, shrubberies and even flowers will do best on your grounds is to find out what kind of soil you have. As Hutson expands, “Soils are very important. Really, that’s what agronomics is, it’s the study of soils and how plants react in different types of soil.” He finished this statement with an invaluable tip: “You’re going to pick plants that are native and do well in the soils that you’re dealing with.” With his experience in building golf greens, he knows what he’s talking about here, because creating a new soil profile can be a costly and intensive endeavor, so it’s a lot easier to choose compatible plants instead.

This is where testing the soil comes into play, which consists of using a soil probe to take soil samples from a number of random locations throughout the property and sending them to a testing facility (there are testing labs, county agents, and even state universities with soil testing capabilities) for an analysis. The results will show pH levels as well as the levels of nutrients in your soil, which will aid in choosing new plantings and also help with identifying the lack of nutrients that may be contributing to unhealthy plantings.

Although it may seem unnecessary, soil testing every few years (Greg recommends testing yearly in areas that receive a lot of rainfall) will ensure that the pH remains within the optimal range and that your grass and plants are getting the right nutrition. This is the real secret to keeping them flourishing, while also saving what could become a major expense if you take the trial-and-error approach instead. Besides, knowing the soil is the foundation of maintaining your landscape health, because it will guide which nutrients you’ll want to add. Which brings us to the question:

Is Fertilizer Really Necessary?

The short answer is a resounding yes! Proper utilization of fertilizer plays a big role in an effective agronomic program. As we just mentioned, the soil provides the nutrients every plant needs so if the soil is lacking, those nutrients need to be added. But the other side to this is that adding too much of a nutrient can have an adverse effect.

Greg shared a great explanation of fertilizer labels, so you can get a better idea of what the numbers mean:

“When you look at a fertilizer label you will typically see three numbers like 16-4-8. These numbers refer to the analysis of the fertilizer or the minimum amounts of Nitrogen (N) – Phosphorous (P) – Potassium (K) in the contained product.

  • N promotes growth and the production of chlorophyll
  • P promotes root growth and the development of seedlings
  • K increases stress tolerance of the plant

Fertilizers may also contain micronutrients such as iron, manganese, or zinc that are essential elements to the growth and health of the plant.”

Proper Application Of Fertilizer Can Make All The Difference

He went much more in-depth with the information he shared, but knowing the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (also called Potash) as well as whether any and if so, which micronutrients are needed will determine which product you choose.

Truly, when it comes to plant health, proper application makes all the difference, and this applies to timing as much as using the right fertilizer blend. If you try to promote growth during a dormancy phase, it can stress and injure the flora. Additionally, the soil temperature is critical, and completely dependent on whether it’s a cool season grass or plant or a warm season plant.

Again, it’s an opportune time to reiterate that knowing the soil type along with life cycles and physiology of plants, trees and turfgrass is so crucial to proper fertilization and overall plant health.

Your Commercial Landscape Management Is Best Left To The Professionals

With all of this (and there’s so much more), it just makes sense to leave the health of your sod, plants and trees to the professionals, doesn’t it? Well, the good news is that your local U.S. Lawns landscaping partner can create a professional agronomic and horticultural management program for your commercial grounds, even if you have multiple properties located in different regions of the country. Go ahead and get in touch with us today! We’ll treat your turf like it’s our lawn.

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