Fertilizer Label Literacy


Another factor to consider right now is availability. We know urea and potash are two raw materials corresponding to the nitrogen and potassium elements of fertilizer, respectively. They are also significant exports from Russia, which has made availability more scarce this year. Skyrocketing natural gas prices and subsequent fertilizer plant closures have only added to the supply strains. The fertilizer available goes to farmers before it becomes available for lawn care.

Ultimately, fertilizer decisions can be specific to the properties you treat. Even within the same geography, what works on one may not work on another. Soil testing is an essential baseline for identifying nutrient needs so you can meet them without overapplying.

Quick-Release vs. Slow-Release

Another decision to make when selecting a fertilizer is choosing between slow-release and quick-release products. Slow-release technology delivers small doses of nutrients over long periods of time, while quick-release fertilizers are fast-acting but shorter-lived. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, and the decision ultimately depends on your specific needs.

One of the deciding factors is timing. We know Fall is the best time for application to cool-season turfgrass because it’s already in its peak growing season. Warm-season turfgrass benefits most from nutrients in Summer, at the peak of its growth. The beginning of the growth spurt is a good time for a slow-release fertilizer, while toward the end of the growing period, a quick-release fertilizer maximizes healthy growth.

Soil Amendments & Conditioners

Tangent to fertilizer, soil conditioners and amendments are valuable to plant health. These two product categories are not considered fertilizers themselves, but accomplish similar jobs. Soil amendments and conditioners never replace fertilizers, but they almost always complement them.

Soil amendments improve the soil to make a better environment for plants. Soil amendments alter soil properties, add organic matter, help with air /water infiltration, create better soil structure, reduce compaction, and even help flush salt. There is a distinction between organic and inorganic soil amendments. One soil amendment is lime, which raises the pH of the soil. Likewise, sulfur lowers the pH of the soil.

Soil conditioners “feed” the soil, nourishing the plant and making it healthier. Conditioners are a broad product category that interacts with the soil microbiome. According to the USDA, one teaspoon of soil can contain 100 million to 1 billion bacteria.

Mycorrhizae is a popular soil conditioner these days. Mycorrhizae are fungi that live in the rhizosphere via a mutually beneficial relationship with the plant. The microscopic fungi serve as conduits by which turfgrass obtains nutrients from the soil.


Another term I hear a lot these days is plant biostimulant. The earliest definition of a biostimulant was a product that promotes plant growth in small quantities compared to nutrients. Amino acids, spoken of earlier, are considered biostimulants. Besides the previously mentioned contributions they make to plants, biostimulants can also be modified to enhance their benefits.

One example is poly-aspartic acid. Aspartic acid is put through a process to create a long chain polymer. The polymer is bristling with negative charges that can grab and hold onto positively charged nutrients in the soil, keeping them more available for the plant to uptake. These nutrients include the ammonium ion form of nitrogen. I have seen a 30% increase in nitrogen efficiency with this polymer coating fertilizer.

Seaweed extracts can also be considered biostimulants. They can provide natural plant hormones like gibberellins and cytokinins that aid plant growth. They also contain micronutrients and some macronutrients that the plant can utilize. At the same time, seaweed is considered a soil conditioner as it forms polymer chains in the soil that can help water and air infiltration.

Lastly, humic and fulvic acids are used as conditioners and biostimulants. They are derived from the biological decay of organic matter. When applied to the soil, they can also help sequester nutrients and make them more available to the plant, as well as aid in the increase of biological activity in the soil.

fall fertilizer

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In addition to understanding product features, a strong relationship with your distributor enables smart buying decisions. Take advantage of the expertise in your network to determine the best products for your needs. Reading labels isn’t glamorous, but it’s vital to the success of your program and customer satisfaction.

fertilizer selectionSybouts is the product development manager at Advanced Turf Solutions, a Green Industry distributor that serves lawn care professionals throughout the Midwest and beyond. Sybouts   earned a Master of Science in Plant Protection and Pest Management from the University of California Davis. He is passionate about turf health and sharing his knowledge with others. 

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at cmenapace@groupc.com.


  1. Do the liquid fertilizers stay in the soil, or do they get flushed out with irrigation or rain? If they do get flushed out, what sort of danger does the excess fertilizer pose to wetlands and ground water

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