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There are advantages to both liquid
and granular fertilizer. The key is to know when to use each type. Using the
correct style of fertilizer – and applying it correctly – will keep your
clients’ lawns looking green all year long.

Here are a few things to consider when
determining the most effective fertilizer for a given site application.

Layout of
the Area.

Small, hard-to-navigate spaces may call for
hand-spraying of liquid fertilizer, especially for crews that prefer to use
machinery in their granular applications.

“We use liquid when we have to do hand
applications – so those are going to be bump outs, small islands, hills,
anything like that where we can’t get a machine into it,” says Dan Mausolf,
general manager at Stine Turf & Snow in Durand, Michigan.

For large, flat areas, Mausolf’s crews prefer
using granular fertilizer whenever possible. They typically spread the
fertilizer using a metered, calibrated hopper available on commercial
spreaders.

“It’s just faster and you can cover more area
(with granular fertilizer) as opposed to liquid,” Mausolf says.

Terrain is a key factor in determining the right
fertilizer, agrees Kyle Rose, business development office for The Green Team,
which has offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia. But because
Rose’s teams typically spread granular fertilizer on foot using hand-crank
spreaders worn over the chest – he prefers granular over liquid for hilly
areas.

“We have a lot of hills at our branch in
Virginia, so it’s hard for us to use push spreaders,” Rose explains. “A lot of
times we prefer granular because we can be more precise and get those areas
done. If you’re spraying liquid fertilizer on a hill, you’ll be slipping and
sliding all over the place.”

Type of
Application Needed.

In Sarasota, Florida, owner Michael Falconer’s
Lawngevity crews typically use granular fertilizer for new starts and at key
application times throughout the year in order to get “that really nice green
lawn that your customer’s looking for,” he says.

“It has to do with the amount of nitrogen you
want to put out,” he adds. “If you want to put a larger amount out – say, one
pound of nitrogen per one thousand feet – you’re going to use granular. If you
tried to use liquid at that higher rate, you’d probably get leaf burn. Liquid’s
not good if you’re trying to put a heavier amount of nitrogen out.”

In between seasonal granular applications,
Falconer’s crews prefer liquid fertilizer as their go-to tool for more frequent
maintenance applications.

The advantage of using liquid for maintenance
applications is that it allows crews to customize applications for each client,
as needed.

“The big advantage is, you can pull up on a yard
and if you’re going to spray it with liquid fertilizer, you can mix for what
you see when you pull up,” Falconer says. “So if you pull up to a lawn and it
has an iron deficiency, you could add a little iron to your mix . . . or if
your lawn has insects, you (can) put the insecticide in there. (With liquid
fertilizer) you do everything in one shot.”

Spreading
Accuracy.

There’s also the issue of correct application
rate. Many crews feel it’s easier to calibrate the correct application rate
when using granular fertilizer.

“In my experience, it’s easier to train people
to put out the right amount of granular on a property as opposed to spraying
liquid, just because everybody tends to walk in a different way or spray in a
different pattern (with liquid),” Rose says.

“There are a lot more variables involved with
spraying – you have to make sure your gun is calibrated properly. You have to
make sure you’ve mixed at the right rate, and that it’s being agitated properly
in your tank,” Rose adds.

Windy days can also pose a problem for liquid
applications, especially if crews are using low-volume sprayers.

“A gust of wind can pop up, and (with liquid)
you can end up spraying fertilizer where it’s not supposed to be,” Rose says.

To increase accuracy of spreading when using
granular fertilizers, Falconer recommends using a properly calibrated professional
spreader with a side shield, which he developed, to avoid spraying fertilizer
into pools or into ditches or other waterways.

For his part, Falconer said it’s possible to
achieve spray consistency with liquid fertilizer, but it calls for careful
calibration of equipment.

“Every truck is calibrated for the technician,”
Falconer says. Lawngevity crews do routine water “bucket tests” with their
spray equipment at headquarters to check that they’re releasing around five
gallons a minute – which “is about what a person will walk and spread over
1,000 square feet,” Falconer said.

Equipment
Availability.

Relying on granular as a primary fertilizer type
means crews don’t have to wait for access to a tank truck.

“You can be more versatile with granular,” Rose
says. “If you’re a smaller operation that has only three or four trucks, and
none of them have a tank, you can still send all of those trucks out with
granular products. But if you’re doing a liquid fertilizer, you can only send
one guy out if you only have one spray tank.”

Timeline.

Using granular fertilizer with slow release can
lead to longer activation periods – meaning crews won’t have to reapply
fertilizer as frequently. The result: cost savings in crew labor time.

“With granular options, we can use a material
that might last 60 days, might last 180 days, or even up to a full growing
season here,” Mausolf says. “So there’s more options (with granular). There’s
more consistent growth color, throughout the majority of the season. You
wouldn’t get that with liquid. You can’t put that much down (in a single
application).”

Cost.

In some cases, there may be a cost-savings
effect to using granular fertilizer, particularly when additives are factored
in.

“Once you start mixing in potassium and
phosphorous into the liquid (nitrogen-based fertilizer), it becomes really,
really expensive,” Rose says. “So, it’s actually cheaper to add more potassium
and phosphorus into the granular fertilizers than it is to the liquids.”

On the other hand, if you consider crew labor
time, there could be a cost savings effect to choosing liquid fertilizer – due
to the fact that fertilization, weed control, and insecticide can be done in
one spray application, rather than three separate steps.

“When you’re all done applying granular
fertilizer, then you have to blow off (sidewalks and driveway) and then (as a
second step) you’d have to pull hose and spray weeds,” Falconer says. “Whereas
if you’re just doing liquid, you pull hose, and spray weeds and fertilize all
in one shot. So, (using) liquid does help our costs.”

Rose agrees that using liquids can mean less
walkovers of a property.

“I think you can be more flexible with liquid.
You can mix fertilizer, insecticide, and weed killer in one tank and just walk
the property one time,” he says. “So, it can be a little more efficient, with a
liquid, if you have multiple applications on a property.”

Client Perceptions.

While there are advantages and disadvantages to
both liquid and granular fertilizers, one key factor may ultimately tip the
scales in the favor of granular: client perception.

Many residential clients appreciate that they
can come home from work and literally see evidence that crews have been on site
and have applied granular fertilizer. When liquids are used, there’s often no
such visual cue that the work has been done.

“There’s always that customer perception – for
whatever reason – (where they fear) they might be getting cheated,” Rose says.
“If they come home and see that you’ve been there and see that granular
product, it gives them peace of mind that the crew did what they were supposed
to do.”

The author is a freelance writer based in
Kentucky.

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