Farewell to input Armageddon

By |  February 15, 2018 0 Comments

Throughout my career as a head greenkeeper, I slayed phosphorus to drive roots and applied potassium, hoping to suppress the gnarliest turfgrass pest of all time, anthracnose. And you better believe I was placing a target on pounds per thousand of nitrogen throughout any given growing season.

I approached balancing soils the industry-standard way for years, and honestly thought I was doing a decent job. Surfaces seemed adequate, with the occasional hiccup, but man, it was tough trying to nail the recommended targets on those informative soil reports.

It all seems fairly simple while sitting in the comfortable confines of your office, poring over the data before the season begins. However, the next thing you know it’s Memorial Day, and those 10 pallets of gypsum are staring you in the face just longing to get those below-optimum calcium percentages into the optimal range.

It was input Armageddon every spring and fall, and along with getting everything out in a timely fashion, the cost associated with balancing soils was pretty hefty. Something had to give. Luckily, I stumbled upon a podcast that offered an alternative approach to managing soils.

The host was a guy referring to himself as “The Turfgrass Zealot,” and his guest was Micah Woods, Ph.D., an intriguing dude whom I instantly liked. He was soft spoken but confident, with a backstory so interesting I could’ve sat on a tractor all day listening to him talk about growing grass.

I was fascinated by his delivery, intelligence, sense of humor and love of travel. But what I truly found most interesting, besides the fact that stewed pig leg costs 40 baht in Thailand, was this acronym they kept talking about: MLSN. It stands for Minimal Levels of Sustainable Nutrition, and to put it lightly, my mind was blown by this alternative approach to soil management.

MLSN was created in 2012 by Woods and Larry Stowell, Ph.D., and Wendy Gelernter, Ph.D., of Pace Turf. It was developed in an effort to reduce inputs and costs while also reducing the impact these plant nutrient applications have on our environment.

Basically, MLSN demonstrates that as long as soil is supplied with the minimal amount of any one nutrient, and you didn’t allow this nutrient to dip below the proposed guidelines, turf performance will not suffer.
Here are the MLSN guidelines.

  • PH: >5.5
  • Potassium (K ppm) 37
  • Phosphorus (P ppm) 21
  • Calcium (Ca ppm) 331
  • Magnesium (Mg ppm) 47
  • Sulfur as sulfate (S ppm) 7

No longer is it necessary to sweat whether magnesium levels are excessive or if potassium percentages are deemed extremely low, therefore affecting overall crop yield. Because in essence, are we attempting to produce high yields of turf?

I used to think yes, that growing succulent turf is required to produce healthy surfaces. But when I read Woods’ definition of greenkeeping, which is, “Managing the growth rate of the grass to create the desired playing surface for golf,” I recognized the awful job I was doing for so many years as a greenkeeper.

When it comes to managing my soils, all I need to do is add any element that falls below the MLSN Guidelines. This simple concept changed my entire approach to greenkeeping, and the results have been remarkable.

For 11 seasons as a head greenkeeper, I’ve been the one making every decision affecting turf health. Some choices have admittedly been bad, while others proved to be right. But the best decision I’ve made has been implementing the MLSN guidelines into my greenkeeping repertoire.

By doing so, surfaces have never been better and fertilizer costs have plummeted. If you don’t know about MLSN, you should definitely check it out. It’s pretty amazing how going minimal can maximize the performance of your turf.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Columns

Post a Comment