Nutrients and Inputs



Plants need essential nutrients to establish, grow, stay healthy, and fight off diseases and pests. While plants and lawns get some nutrients from the soil, supplemental nutrients are often necessary to help them maintain the health needed to deliver positive environmental impacts such as creating oxygen, absorbing carbon, cooling our communities, protecting water quality and much more. Fertilizer applied to turfgrass should follow local Cooperative Extension nutrient management recommendations. Applying the right product at the right time and at the right rate is critical, lawns with less weeds actually require less inputs and are more sustainable. All fertilizer applicators should be professionally trained and knowledgeable of nutrient management within their respective geographic region.

Plan and Design

  • Conduct a soil test when necessary and base fertilizer purchases and application on results. Soil tests provide helpful information but are not always necessary. Historical knowledge on local soil trends, visual observations of conditions and time since a previous soil test has been conducted should all be taken into consideration.
  • Calculate area to be fertilized before you purchase fertilizer, so you know how much to buy.
  • When irrigating with reclaimed water, adjust your fertilizer rate to take nutrients in the water into account.
  • Always read and follow fertilizer label to determine application rates and guidelines.
  • Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (e.g., controlled release and/or slow release products) should be prioritized where warranted based on geographic environment. Controlled and/or slow release provide fewer applications which results in fewer trips and reduces inputs and labor. Controlled and slow released products are not appropriate in all circumstances and a trained professional can help determine the best product and plan to properly feed your plants and lawn.
  • Fertilizers that contain pesticides, known as combination products, should be treated as pesticide must always be used by a state certified and trained applicator.
  • Fertilizers are available in myriad analysis; match analysis choice to nutrient requirements expressed in soil test results.
  • Both synthetic and organic sources have important roles to play in nutrient management plans. It is the job of the professional to match product choice with site conditions and customer demands ensuring that the right product is applied to the right place at the right time at the right rate.

Install, Manage & Maintain

  • Follow any state or local regulations on the use of fertilizer products, including licensing or certification. This information should be available from either your state department of agriculture or University Cooperative Extension Service office.
  • Invest in professional-quality application equipment and keep that equipment is perfect working order to ensure that fertilizer is applied evenly and not to off-target sites.
  • Calibrate your application equipment to ensure that fertilizer products are being applied at the desired rate.
  • Avoid applying fertilizer to off-target sites (e.g., flower beds) or impervious surfaces (e.g., driveways and patios) through use of deflection equipment. Remove any off-target fertilizer.
  • Never fill a fertilizer spreader on the lawn and always use a spreader cover to prevent accidental spills.
  • Always follow label directions and regulations that address setbacks from bodies of water. Always use deflection equipment when near bodies of water and impervious surfaces to prevent accidental introduction of fertilizer.
  • Fertilizer should be stored in an enclosed, clean, dry and well-ventilated area according to state and local laws and regulations.
  • Apply only when turfgrass is actively growing, and not when dormant due to heat, cold or drought.
  • Avoid appling fertilizer to frozen or snow-covered soil, or when heavy rains are expected, to prevent runoff from occurring.
  • Care should be taken to keep nutrients in the target area and proper care and equipment should be used to avoid applications that may lead to runoff


Properly managed landscapes provide tremendous environmental and sociological benefits. Harmful or unwanted pests such as insects, fungi and weeds can greatly diminish these benefits if not properly managed by a landscape professional. The principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) are the foundation of how to sustainably protect landscapes. Obtaining the correct certifications and knowledge to understand how to implement the most effective plan to protect and enhance our landscapes while minimizing adverse impacts to the environment.


  • Applying pesticides for hire requires licensing and/or certification by state regulators. In some jurisdictions, this requirement extends to fertilizer use as well. Contact your state’s lead agency for specific information.
  • Continuing education is key to maintain subject matter expertise and is required for retaining pesticide license status. Maintain certification by completing necessary state continuing education credits
  • Consider pursuing additional credentials to further knowledge and expertise through academia, cooperative extensions, industry associations or other entities that provide education in horticulture, agronomy, and pest management.
  • Engage with Cooperative Extension Service in your geographic area to remain knowledgeable on recent trends and advancements in research.
  • Communicate with local professional association to keep them aware of trends in the industry and how professionals are managing landscapes.
  • Maintain accurate and detailed records of steps taken to manage pests for each customer based on state regulations.
  • Comply with all applicable notification and posting requirements and accurately communicate with the customer concerning action taken based on state regulations.

Monitoring & Inspecting

  • Scout landscape plants and turf areas for pests with each visit.
  • Establish thresholds and tolerances with customers.
  • Thresholds should be predictive, once a pest pressure is present more labor and more inputs are required to mitigate.
  • Become proficient at identifying plants, as well as the pests that affect them, including the life-cycle of the pest.
  • Understand concepts of economic and damage thresholds for pests
  • Understand optimum strategy and tactics for controlling individual pests including proper timing for control measures.
  • Set realistic expectations. Eradication is not possible, nor desirable. It’s not practical to strive for insect-free, weed-free or disease-free landscapes.

What is Integrated Pest Management? (IPM)

USDA and Statutory Definition: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a science-based decision-making process that combines tools and strategies to identify and manage pests. As defined in 7 U.S.C. § 136r, IPM is “a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks.” 

Implementing Integrated Pest Management in Landscapes

The following are among the many cultural, physical, biological and chemical practices that are part of IPM that should be implemented by landscape professionals to promote healthy plants and reduce their susceptibility to damage from pests.

Cultural Practices

  • Core aeration of turfgrass helps relieve soil compaction, increase water infiltration and exchange of gasses in the soil. Annual aeration in late summer and early fall will increase overall vigor of the turfgrass stand.
  • Overseeding in conjunction with core aeration introduces younger and more vigorous turfgrass plants that are bred to require less inputs such as fertilizer, water and pesticides.
  • Introduction of organic matter in the form of compost topdressing will improve soil health, especially at the time of core aeration when it can be incorporated into aeration holes.
  • Dethatching is a cultural practice to remediate the excessive buildup of dead, yet undecomposed, plant tissue that exists above the soil surface yet below the verdure of the lawn.

Physical Practices

  • Right Plant, Right Place
    • Select pest resistant plants suited for the site conditions.
    • Inspect and purchase plants that are pest-free.
    • Avoid notoriously problematic plants.
    • Properly install and maintain plants so as not to stress them.
  • Turfgrass Height
    • Many pest problems in lawns are the result of improper mowing practices.
    • Mower blades should be sharpened regularly to avoid shredding grass blades
    • Each species of turfgrass has an optimum height of cut, generally in the 2” to 4” range. Use the highest recommended cut based on variety, use and geographic region. Remember, Taller is better.
    • The general rule of thumb is to avoid removing more than 1/3d of the overall height with any one mowing.
    • Declining to mow for extended periods of time during the growing season can actually be detrimental to the health of the grass.
  • Pruning
    • Varies by species but the timing must be correct and using the correct technique. Pruning at the improper time, or pruning too much will make the plant susceptible to damage and infestations from pests.
  • Water
    • Considerations of water use is fundamental in selecting plants for a landscape. Choose plants that can thrive without supplemental irrigation over those that require it.
    • Avoid irrigating when soil moisture content is adequate.
    • Timing of irrigation is critical to avoiding disease development. Avoid irrigating that leads to elongated periods of leaf wetness.
    • Irrigate for effect: less frequent and deeper irrigation encourages root development, while frequent and shallow irrigation encourages rooting at the surface.
    • The quantity of irrigation should only be sufficient to replace that water lost to evapotranspiration. Consult Cooperative Extension or University outreach for locally specific information.
  • Whenever practical or feasible, consider:
    • Removing pests by hand.
    • Removing infested and infected parts of the plant.
    • When recommended, disinfect equipment used for pruning


  • Prioritize IPM protocols to reduce overall pesticide use.
  • Efficacy is a key consideration when choosing a pesticide product, organic or synthetic. If the product under consideration is not efficacious, it should be reconsidered.
  • Whenever possible, pesticide choice should be as specific to the target organism as possible. Considerations of mode of action of the pesticide need to be accounted for as well. Over reliance on a single mode of action leads to pests developing resistance.
  • Explain the differences between synthetic and organic options for the customer and base your professional recommendation on the effectiveness and health of the plant.
  • Whenever possible or practicable, choose spot treatment strategies over broadcast treatments.
  • Follow pesticide labels instructions carefully.
  • Never apply a pesticide to a plant in bloom whether pollinators are present or not.

Pesticide Safety

  • THE LABEL IS THE LAW. To protect the environment, non-target species and yourself, always read, understand and comply with instructions on the pesticide label. (FAILURE TO FOLLOW CAN AND WILL RESULT IN FINES)
  • Store, transport and apply pesticides according to label instructions.
  • Always wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) as instructed on the label.
  • Only buy pesticide products in the amount you will need. This will help you avoid having to store excess product.
  • Keep products in their original containers with intact and legible labels.
  • Dispose of empty containers as specified on the label. Look for recycling opportunities, otherwise render the container useless by cutting holes in it according to label directions.