Influence of Phosphorus in Starter Fertilizer on the Establishment of Tall Fescue

in HortScience

Phosphorus (P)-containing starter fertilizers are often recommended for establishing new turf, regardless of P levels indicated by the soil test. However, few field studies have been conducted to determine the effects of P in starter fertilizer on the rate of turf establishment. The primary objective of this study was to determine if P in starter fertilizer enhances tall fescue groundcover and growth during establishment on silt loam soil. This 2-year field study was conducted on silt loam soil tilled with a rototiller or core-aerated and vertically sliced. Mehlich-3 P levels ranged from 38 to 270 mg·kg−1. Experiments were conducted during late summer and fall, and all tests were seeded with ‘Bullseye’ tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.). Treatments included 49 and 73.5 kg·ha−1 of nitrogen (N) without P, 49 kg·ha−1 of N plus three different rates of P (24.5, 49, and 73.5 kg·ha−1), and a nonfertilized control. Comparisons between groups that received treatment with 49 kg·ha−1 of N without P and treatments with 49 kg·ha−1 N with P revealed few significant groundcover responses to the addition of P. Of 12 groundcover assessments performed during four experiments, contrasts revealed only one instance of a higher percentage of groundcover in response to the addition of P. This occurred during an experiment having a pretreatment Mehlich-3 P level of 38 mg·kg−1. Comparisons indicated greater clipping yields in response to the addition of P in one of the four experiments. This occurred in soil that was core-aerated and sliced with an initial Mehlich-3 P level of 66 mg·kg−1. In most cases, Mehlich-3 P levels at the end of each experiment increased as the P application rates increased. The only instance in which comparisons between treatment with 49 kg·ha−1 N without P and treatments with 49 kg·ha−1 N with P demonstrated a significant leaf tissue response to P during the experiment with soil that was core-aerated and sliced with a pretreatment Mehlich-3 P level of 66 mg·kg−1. When individual treatments were compared, the 73.5 kg·ha−1 N treatment without P produced similar or higher groundcover and clipping yields than all other treatments during all four experiments. This study revealed few groundcover and variable tall fescue clipping yield responses to P additions when applied at rates used for starter fertilizer applications on silt loam soil during late summer and fall. Groundcover and growth responses due to P in starter fertilizers do not appear to be solely related to soil test P levels, and other factors such as the method of establishment (tilling soil vs. core-aerating and slicing the soil surface), environmental conditions, and the N content of soil may be involved.

Contributor Notes

This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project 1006804.Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture or the USDA. Some financial support for this research was provided by the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council.We gratefully acknowledge Timothy Lulis for providing technical assistance, Zenon Lis (Burlingham Seeds, LLC) for supplying tall fescue seed, and John Pope (The Andersons, Inc.) for providing monoammonium phosphate.

Corresponding author. E-mail: pjl1@psu.edu.

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