The Winterizer Fertilizer and Responsibility
The other day we had our first real hard freeze up here in New Hampshire. With it comes the fact that no matter what we put on our lawns the top growth is going to come to halt and for most of us that’s a good thing. The fact of the matter remains however; the months at the very end of the year are absolutely the most productive of the entire season. Product choice for the final application is vital to two different aspects of your business; your customer’s lawns and your company’s financial health. Are you making the right choice? Whose best interest should you have in mind? It’s always a battle of right and wrong this time of year and there isn’t always a clear cut winner.
It wasn’t long ago that the majority of lawn care services promoted the fact that the winterizing treatment should consist of one hundred percent potassium. The thinking was that if you applied a generous amount of potassium towards the end of the year the application would “harden off” the grass plant and make it more cold tolerant, stronger to compete with cold temperatures and most importantly prevent disease activity like “Snow Mold.” It sounds pretty good right? Well, if you are a customer it sounds really good, like you really know what you are talking about.
Well, there may be some truth to all of those things but from an agronomic standpoint it’s not exactly cutting edge. Sure, potassium can harden off the plant a little bit by building cell structure and it does help prevent disease activity in some circumstances but the most important thing about applying a potash treatment in the late fall is the fact that it is about as cheap a product as you could possibly purchase. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually a good thing.
The final application of the year for your business should be pure profit. You should have turned the corner and the last month of production should literally be simply all about putting money in the bank. You obviously want to be as judicious as you possibly can with your expenses and a 0-0-60 at one pound per 1,000 square feet should come in at less than fifty cents per K. For those of you who do this potash treatment I am in agreement with your choice but don’t embarrass yourself by being dishonest about it.
For those of you who are selling the treatment by saying, “it puts your lawn to bed” you should come up with a better metaphor! Come on……give your customers some credit!!!!!
The appropriate choice for a true winterizer is a product that contains a decent amount of nitrogen and it should be applied after the lawn has stopped growing but before it’s gone dormant. This fits perfectly into most of our schedules because we are working as hard as we can to finish up for the year. A true winterizing fertilizer will contain enough nitrogen (less than a half pound per thousand square feet) to be absorbed by the plant and stored over the winter. This will aid in spring green-up dramatically as the turf comes out of dormancy in March and April.
Anybody see an issue with this? Well, I personally see two very glaring issues. First, we all know that there will be a certain number of your customers that will not return next spring. For the bigger companies it could be that more than 20% of your customers will find other ways to take care of their lawns next year. The issue here is that you are making an investment in a more expensive product that
will really only create a benefit for the next fiscal year. Your interest as business owner should be on THIS fiscal year and knowing that you will lose customers means that you will lose money. In this regard, fiscal responsibility usually reigns over agronomic responsibility. Secondly and most importantly, how much of that water soluble urea that is being applied is actually leaching away because the plant isn’t able to absorb it all? Yeah, let’s not go there right now.
How about the best of both worlds? An organic option is the best choice!
Here is what we’ve determined so far for late season treatments.
- 1. You need to make some money and your techs need to haul ass.
- 2. You don’t want to use a very expensive product.
- 3. You’d like to see some results from your winter application the following spring.
- 4. You need to have some nitrogen in there and potassium would be good too.
- 5. You don’t want to insult your customer’s intelligence by being dishonest.
An organic winterizing treatment will give you the best of all worlds. Here at BeeSafe we use an organic 3-0-0 that meets the criteria of every single one of the above, five bullet points.
The product is our least expensive of the year and allows for great profitability. The Nitrogen is derived from organic sources and acts in a water Insoluble way. In other words the nitrogen will be absorbed, not leach and manifest itself when the turf comes out of dormancy. The product also contains something that all of us associate with organics and that is a good dose of humates. (humic acid) Not only will it help to continue to promote soil development its chock full of potassium and that’s a good thing. The only thing I refuse to acknowledge is that the product has the ability to “put your lawn to bed.” I’ll leave that for the more weak of mind