Anyone who has ever correctly used a Nature Safe program will attest to the fact that it works and it works well. The benefits are many and include disease suppression, soil structure enhancement, thatch reduction, enhanced rooting, superior density and uniform growth. Of course, the secret to getting the most out of a Nature Safe program is to use it regularly. The longer one uses the program, the better the results tend to be.

Occasionally I come across a Nature Safe user who claims that his Nature Safe program no longer works for him. A customer who had been using Nature Safe 10-2-8 on his bentgrass fairways was singing the praises of Nature Safe as he had greatly reduced his thatch problem, practically eliminated a severe dollar spot problem and produces a well rooted and dense turf in the process.

Three years later, he claimed the program was no longer working for him. He now has thatch problems, dollar spot is a major problem and he is experiencing excessive growth. He feels that something in Nature Safe has changed.

When we looked at what his practices were three years ago versus this year, there was a world of difference, but the superintendent didn’t realize how much his program had changed. Three years ago he was applying about a third of a pound of nitrogen per month from 10-2-8. At that rate, he would have been applying a little over two pounds of nitrogen per thousand per year. However, in the past three years he has slowly tweaked his program to the point where he is, in all reality, no longer on a true Nature Safe program. He has gradually gotten to the point where he makes only two summer applications of Nature Safe that total about 6/10 of a pound of nitrogen. The rest of his program now consists of synthetic fertilizer. He felt that because he was still using the same amount of nitrogen per unit area, he should be getting better results.

When a Nature Safe program is used, the amount of nitrogen that is being applied is not of great importance like it is when applying synthetic products. The most important consideration is how much and how often amino acids are being applied. On cool season turf, a minimum of about 12 pounds per thousand of amino acids spread over at least four applications during the season are required to achieve optimum results. If 10-2-8 is being used, which contains 60.3% amino acids, it is necessary to apply at least two pounds of nitrogen per thousand scattered over at least four applications. If it is scattered over five or six applications the results will be even better. That will total 20 pounds of 10-2-8 per thousand, which translates to slightly over 12 pounds of amino acids. Just remember, 12 pounds of amino acids per thousand square feet per season is not the maximum, it is the minimum for optimum performance. The superintendent described above is applying 6/10 of a pound of nitrogen per thousand per year from Nature Safe. If he is using 10-2-8, that amounts to less than four pounds of amino acids per thousand per year divided between only two applications. Little wonder then that the results were less than ideal.

When a new Nature Safe program is initiated, results are not always immediately obvious because it takes some time to build up the populations of beneficial soil microbes to high enough levels to be effective. Once their numbers have been built up, they also do not decline rapidly. If the amount of food that is available to them declines, they slowly decline in numbers. Therefore, if someone tweaks his Nature Safe program a little at a time by slowly reducing the number of applications or the amount of each application, he will not see an immediate decline in his results. He tends to look at the turf and see little difference, so he thinks he has found a way to reduce the cost of his program without affecting the quality of his turf. If the program is tweaked a little every year, in a few years it is no longer effective and the superintendent arrives at the conclusion that Nature Safe no longer works for him.

I even had one superintendent tell me that the pathogens that were attacking his turf had developed an immunity to the beneficial organisms, thereby forcing him to use more fungicides. Of course there is no way that pathogens can become immune to the beneficial organisms. They can develop immunities to specific chemicals over time, but they cannot develop immunities to living organisms. These beneficial microbes are not really killing the pathogens, they are just out competing them, and no organism can develop immunity to competition. In this instance the superintendent had switched from Nature Safe to a chicken manure product to save some money. His new product had a very low percentage of amino acids and it did not adequately feed the beneficial microbes, so there were not enough of them available to properly compete with the pathogens. He saved some money on fertilizer, but he spent much more on fungicides.

I think that the most important lesson that can be learned here is that when using a Nature Safe program, the amount of nitrogen that is being applied is of little importance. What really matters is the amount of amino acids that are being applied and how often the applications are being made. If we can forget about the N, P and K numbers on the bag and focus on the amino acid content instead, we will have a much greater chance of producing the finest turf possible.