Turf MD: Slow and steady wins the race with nitrogen

By |  March 26, 2024 0 Comments

Tinkering with my 1960 Pontiac Firebird is a hobby of mine. Over the years, I’ve made gradual improvements to the car. Now, I’m pretty happy with where it’s at. The important thing is it gets me to where I want to go and back with few issues.

Karl Danneberger

Karl Danneberger, Ph.D

I’ve received outside suggestions for improvement and “stepping up” my engine power. The current engine in the Firebird is the original 350 cubic inch (5.7L) V8 that generates 265 horsepower. Sometimes, I’m tempted to put the Firebird on a dynamometer, but I figure actually knowing the actual horsepower, given the age of the engine, could be depressing.

I’ve looked at installing a new engine with more horsepower but, for me, it’s too expensive. I’ve thought of installing straight pipes for the exhaust system or replacing it entirely to get a louder sound, which might mask horsepower deficiencies. But that doesn’t deal with the core problem.

My last consideration was installing nitrous oxide, which could potentially increase my engine’s horsepower by 200. After checking with a few friends who have experience with installing nitrous, I was told you need to know what you are doing. That was a non-starter for me doing a home installation.

The main reason I opted against nitrous was that if the fuel-to-nitrous oxide ratio is off, engine performance could suffer. For example, too much fuel leads to black belching smoke, while too much nitrous could melt the engine.

Turf Similarities

I’ve drawn some similarities from my Firebird to golf course fertility programs, specifically nitrogen programs. Nitrogen is the key to any turfgrass fertility program. It’s one of the three primary elements — in addition to phosphorus and potassium — that superintendents apply regularly.

Nitrogen affects shoot and root growth, density and color. Less obvious benefits include the fact that it is a component of nucleic acids, amino acids, proteins, chlorophyll and coenzymes.

Nitrogen’s impact on growth, density and color is often a double-edged sword. On one hand, growth, color and density are signs of a healthy turf. But, on putting greens these characteristics are often associated with hurting green speed. Reducing or avoiding nitrogen is an attempt to increase ball roll at the expense of the health of the turf — or, in my analogy, doing damage to the engine.

Common symptoms of nitrogen being too low, especially on sand-based greens include algae appearing, increased disease pressure and reduced stress tolerance.

Color can be deceiving in the evaluation of the effectiveness of a nitrogen program. Using my masking example from exhaust systems, the applications of plant growth regulators (PGRs) can provide or enhance the green color of the turf and are used as a replacement for nitrogen applications.

The assumption is that the color response can be achieved without causing any growth. The fallacy in this assumption is that PGRs induce the same effects in the plant as nitrogen. The impact of nitrogen and PGRs has little overlap in plant functions. When devising both PGR and nitrogen programs look upon them as additives instead of substitutions.

Extreme changes in one’s nitrogen program to achieve a desired outcome, like increased ball roll, often lead to detrimental turf effects over time. Remain cautious with your changes and look for moderate changes in other practices to achieve the desired result.

Regarding my ’69 Firebird, I haven’t made any of the changes mentioned to increase the horsepower, but I am pretty pleased with where it’s at.

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About the Author: Karl Danneberger, Ph.D.

Karl Danneberger, Ph.D., is a professor in the department of horticulture and crop science at The Ohio State University. He is author of the popular The Turf Doc column that appears monthly in Golfdom. Karl writes on topics ranging from Poa annua to pest control.

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