Bionutrition can help build up a strong stand of turf, but it takes a little trust and solid basics to let the soil do its job.
Alan FitzGerald used to do regular soil testing at LedgeRock Golf Course, always checking the underground for the fix to the next problem for his bentgrass greens.
“I got really into feeding the turf and finding out what was going on with it,” says FitzGerald. “If something was out of whack, I would try to fix it. It ended up that all I was doing was just chasing my tail all the time and I got tired of it. I could never seem to balance the soil.”
Even after trying to follow up on each new problem his turf presented, he just wasn’t happy with the results throughout the course. “It didn’t matter what we did, the grass always looked a little hungry and weak and just a little not right.”
Checking in with some of his colleagues from across the Atlantic, he noticed a trend in their programs that he hadn’t come across since his time as an assistant: bionutrition.
“Just paying attention to what was going on in the UK, I saw a lot more bio,” he says. “There was a ton more seaweed and organic materials.”
FitzGerald looked into bringing bionutrition back to the course, rediscovering Emerald Isle and other organic applications.
“I remembered that I used to really like what it and what it did when I was an assistant,” he says. “We had initially started using it, did some test plots and got some pretty good success. I remember with one of the practice greens, I was asked what I was spraying on that green. I thought it had done some damage, but it was the only one without any dollar spot on it.
“We brought it in and tried it, and we had some amazing results.”
Not completely abandoning granular fertilizer, FitzGerald has worked the bionutrition program in with his existing chemicals to support their work.
He still uses a little nitrogen with the mix and calcium once a month, but the organic material has gone up to an application every two weeks during the summer. With all the bionutrition sustaining his turf, he’s cut back on the amount of soil testing. Though he does still use it, it’s much less common than when he was fighting to supply the soil with every possible element.
“I’ve pretty much given up on soil testing most of the time,” says FitzGerald. “I’m a pretty firm believer that if you aerate the soil, it’ll keep healthy. Aeration is the number one thing you can do to help these programs do their job. Calcium helps loosen the soil up as well. But I think we can get too technical, when we need to just take care of the basics.
“When I do soil testing, it’s more of a monitor to make sure nothing’s really wrong with it, nothing major’s happening. Otherwise, it kind of tends to take care of itself. I don’t go chasing the chemicals. I just listen to what the grass is telling me.”
A superintendent can’t just start out listening to the turf when it comes to testing bionutrition, though.
“I think the first place to start is to sit down and decide what where you want to try your experiment,” says FitzGerald. “Try to experiment, but keep it simple and keep at it. Don’t just do two applications and expect to see something overnight. I’d say getting to the point where you’re comfortable with it takes about 18 months.”
For FitzGerald, though, letting the soil guide him has not only built stronger turf, but even given the course a more natural, green feel.
“The biggest thing for me is that we just had to dig up some soil to put in a new tee,” says FitzGerald, “and it actually smelled early. You could actually smell that the soil was alive.”