All Eyes On You

As water is a dwindling resource that affects us on a global scale, we obviously want not only to conserve the amount but ensure the supply remains as clean as possible. So I carefully follow restrictions when applying chemical and biological fertilizers. Regardless of the season, I always apply only the amount prescribed on the package and no more. I’ve found that applying more than directed can either adversely affect the turf, or will have no effect other than saturating the surrounding environment. Inaccurate amounts of nitrogen can be especially harmful.

As a partner and steward of the environment, my staff and I work hard to voluntarily limit our chemical and biological usage under the guidelines of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Like environmental groups nationwide, the Virginia DCR acts to help conserve the land and soil throughout the state.

Following its guidelines, I apply limited amounts of fertilizers, nitrogen in particular, to the soil. With bluegrass, for example, I only apply about three pounds of nitrogen in the soil of this cool-season grass per year. For Bermuda grass, which is a warm-season grass, I apply approximately four pounds of nitrogen in the soil per year, which can handle more fertilizer and not burn out. The important issue for both of these grass types is not to over-fertilize; if you do, the excess fertilizer runs off into the water table and other soils, causing larger environmental issues.

Surprisingly, the overuse of nitrogen is a common problem for many people. When brown or dry spots develop in the summer, most people realize it is the result of poor fertilization in the spring and fall. Often the result is that they try to overcompensate by adding additional fertilizer or nitrogen in the summer. Unfortunately, this usually makes the problem worse, and ultimately harms the environment in the long run. Therefore, it is extremely important to know what nutrients the turf needs, how much to apply, and when to apply them. Taking an annual soil sample to be tested at the local university or agricultural extension office is a great way to stay on track.

Keeping plants healthy year-round is a delicate balancing act between applying nutrients and then monitoring responses. Again, the best offense is setting up the turf to succeed from the beginning, rather than waiting to treat problems as they emerge. For example, in the summer, I usually spray ROOTS KCS on the turf, which is loaded with potassium. The potassium helps the turf hold up better to heat stress, and also lessens the need for additional additives or chemicals, which can potentially harm the environment.

Monitoring chemical, biological and water use are only the most basic steps for helping to preserve the environment. Remember, conservation and environmental impact affects your fields, organization, community and the country at large. The sooner you put environmentally friendly practices into place, the lighter the impact will be on both the world of today and tomorrow. Now is a great time for you and your staff to update your knowledge of the environmental guidelines of the community or organization, and to ensure you’re implementing them in turf maintenance practices. While you may see that impact most in the summer, the effects of environmental stewardship will be felt by the earth year-round.

Jason Bowers, CSFM, is the Sports Turf/Athletic Grounds Manager at Virginia Tech University. Before his current position, he worked as an Assistant Superintendent at Whiskey Creek Country Club and Beaver Creek Country Club in Maryland, and as a Turf Specialist at Bozzuto Landscaping. He graduated from Virginia Tech with an Associate’s Degree in Agricultural Technology. Bowers can be reached at

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