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Bohan Liu and Peter J. Landschoot

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.