If you want to create a cost-effective fertilizer program for one of the properties you manage, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is choosing a fertilizer solely on price. The bag price is an important factor when figuring out the cost of the total program, but as you'll see, it's only part of the equation.

In this article we'll look at how to properly cost fertilizer, which will help you avoid losing money on product and labor.


How to Calculate the True Cost of Fertilizer

An effective fertilizer program must produce healthy, green turf, but it also needs to make sense from a financial standpoint.

As discussed in the video, one of the most common objections when it comes to slow release fertilizer is the bag cost is too high. But when you look at the number of bags needed per application, how long the fertilizer lasts, and a few other factors, programs utilizing slow release fertilizer usually cost less overall.

Comparing the Cost of Fertilizer

One of the biggest problems with quick release fertilizers is they don't last very long. Usually only 4-6 weeks. On the other hand, slow release fertilizers routinely last anywhere from 2-4 months. And there are a few products that last even longer!

A reliable way to compare fertilizer costs when you're preparing for a single application is to calculate the cost of fertilizer per acre per week. To illustrate how this calculation works, we'll look at the true cost of Turf Royale 21-7-14, a quick release fertilizer that costs $22, and TurfGro 24-5-11 Spring & Summer, a slow release fertilizer that costs $26.

Step 1: Calculate the Number of Bags Needed to Fertilize 1 Acre

When you look at a fertilizer label, the first thing you'll want to find is the NPK ratio. This will show you the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in the bag.

Quick release fertilizers tend to have less nitrogen in the bag, so if you're fertilizing at the typical application rate of 1 lb of N per 1000 sq ft, you will need more bags of fertilizer to get the job done.

A 50 lb bag of Turf Royale 21-7-14 has 10.5 lbs of N, which means you can fertilize 10,500 sq ft or .241 acres. To fertilize an acre, you'll need 4.15 bags.

A 50 lb bag of TurfGro 24-5-11 Spring & Summer has 12 lbs of N, which means you can fertilize 12,000 sq ft or .275 acres. To fertilize an acre, you'll need 3.64 bags.

Step 2: Multiply the Number of Bags by the Bag Price

If you need 4.15 bags of Turf Royale 21-7-14 to fertilize one acre and it costs $22 a bag, the cost to fertilize one acre is $91.30.

If you need 3.64 bags of TurfGro 24-5-11 Spring & Summer to fertilize one acre and it costs $26 a bag, the cost to fertilize one acre is $94.64.

The costs are pretty similar so far, aren't they? But we're missing one important detail: How long the fertilizers last.

Step 3: Divide the Cost to Fertilize One Acre by How Long the Fertilizer Lasts

As we've discussed, one of the main benefits of moving to a slow release fertilizer is that it lasts much longer than quick release fertilizer. This is where you start saving your money.

If it costs $91.30 to fertilize one acre with Turf Royal 21-7-14 and it only lasts 4 weeks, that means it's costing you $22.82 per week.

If it costs $94.64 to fertilize one acre with TG 24-5-11 Spring & Summer and it lasts 9 and half weeks, it's only costing you $10.09 per week.

As you can see, when you pay a few dollars less for a product that only lasts half as long, your fertilizer ends up costing you more in the long run. But the savings are actually greater when you consider a few other costs.

Other Ways Slow Release Fertilizer Saves You Money

The example above focused solely on the cost of fertilizer, but there are other costs to think about when it comes to your fertilizer program. You should also consider:

The cost of labor. Fertilizer doesn't apply itself and labor isn't cheap. Every application of fertilizer means additional labor cost.

The cost of gas. Unless you live on the property, you'll need to get to and from the job site, which wastes additional time and money.

The cost of additional mowing and maintenance. This article has mainly focused on costs, but one of the main benefits of using slow release fertilizer is that it produces steady, healthy growth.

Unfortunately, many of us have been misled to believe that a quick surge of super green is healthy for turf. Not so! In fact, repeated use of quick release fertilizers is a lot like a caffeine rush followed by the crash.

You end up with peaks and valleys in the overall look of the turf. During those lush peaks following a fertilizer application, the plant is overproducing above-ground shoots at the expense of the root system.

The end result is a lot of mowing and shallow roots that cannot mine for water and nutrients as deeply in the soil profile, which may require additional maintenance to correct.


Need help creating a fertilizer program or selecting the right fertilizer?
Contact your local Horizon store. We're happy to help!