Fertilise Wise

Fertilise Wise Turf Management

Why Fertilise Wise?
River health, human health

Turf Managers, including Local Government Parks and Gardens Officers, are responsible for nutrient use on turfed areas, reserves and in local parks and gardens and have the opportunity to lead the community by setting examples in best practice.

Each year the thirty LGA’s of the Perth Region are given the opportunity to take part in the Annual Nutrient Survey – an initiative of the Phosphorus Awareness Project (PAP). The results of the “Annual Nutrient Survey for Local Government Authorities”  provides examples of strategies that turf managers can implement to achieve a high level of nutrient Best Management Practice (BMP). Score Cards have been produced for the Local Government Authorities that responded to the survey which scores them on their overall level of nutrient BMP since 2000. The Score Cards showcase five years of answers for each question which clearly demonstrates trends with recommendations made on how to improve practice where needed.


Nutrient Monitoring

  • Turf Managers should regularly conduct soil tests, leaf tissue analysis and moisture testing before applying fertiliser to determine if nutrients are required, and if required, the application rate and type of nutrients needed. This testing will result in unnecessary fertiliser applications being avoided and excess nutrients being leached to groundwater.
  • The leaf tissue nitrogen content should be maintained between 1.5% – 2% for passive turf and 2% – 3% for sports fields (Ruscoe, Johnston & McKenzie, 2004).
  • The leaf tissue phosphorus content should be maintained between 0.2% – 0.4% (Ruscoe, Johnston & McKenzie, 2004).
  • Turf Managers and LGA Parks and Gardens Officers should attend the Fertilise Wise Fertiliser Training course that is hosted by the Phosphorus Awareness Project in 2021.
  • Turf Managers conduct soil testing and leaf tissue analysis of sports fields, irrigated parks, golf courses under their control, dry grass areas and foreshore reserves before applying fertiliser. This will result in unnecessary fertiliser applications being avoided.
  • Turf Managers regularly conduct moisture testing of these areas to avoid overwatering and the potential leaching of nutrients from these areas.
  • Turf Managers promote testing of golf courses in their areas because they can be a significant source of nutrients to waterways.
  • Turf Managers use ASPAC laboratories for their analyses so that accurate information is received.
  • Turf Managers measure the available phosphorus in the soil using the Colwell method (standard method for Western Australian conditions) to determine accurate levels of phosphorus, thus preventing unnecessary nutrient applications.
  • Turf Managers measure the PRI of soil to determine the capacity of the soil to hold on to phosphorus, thus preventing unnecessary nutrient applications.
  • Turf Managers apply the analyses obtained from the Colwell method and PRI to the following table to determine if phosphorus applications are necessary. As a minimum, these tests should be conducted every second year.

Fertiliser Applications

  • Turf Managers use a range of opinions to determine application rates and types of fertiliser, rather than single sources to ensure appropriate fertiliser regimes are being conducted.
  • Turf Managers use a turf consultant’s expertise to determine fertiliser regimes as they are specifically trained in turf management, usually with many years on ground experience.
  • Turf Managers and LGA Parks and Gardens Officers attend the Fertilise Wise Fertiliser Training course that is hosted by the Phosphorus Awareness Project in 2021.
  • If the turf area has foreshore reserves and parks test these areas before applying fertiliser to avoid unnecessary nutrient applications which could leach into groundwater and nearby waterways.
  • If nutrients are required then controlled release or low water soluble fertilisers should be applied to reduce leaching.
  • Fertiliser should not be applied in the winter months when heavy rainfall can wash nutrients into the waterway and irrigation needs to be carefully monitored so that overwatering also does not wash nutrients into the waterway.
  • If possible, establish a 50 metre buffer zone between fertilised areas and waterways (DoW, 2004-2007).
  • Turf Managers refer to ‘Fertiliser application on pasture or turf near sensitive water resources (2010)’ available from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.
  • Turf Managers use specific fertilisers according to the soil and leaf tissue analyses for each site rather than using the same fertiliser for all sites to ensure that all the nutrients are utilised by the turf and not leached into groundwater.
  • Turf Managers only apply phosphorus and nitrogen when testing indicates it is required to avoid leaching of nutrients that are not required by the turf.
  • Turf Managers determine the rate of each nutrient of the fertiliser they intend to apply before application to ensure that over application of phosphorus and nitrogen does not occur. The formula to determine the rate of nutrient is to multiply the amount of fertiliser to be applied per hectare by the percentage of that nutrient (either N% or P%) in the fertiliser, divided by 100.
  • The maximum nitrogen rate for a single application is 40 kg nitrogen/hectare (Ruscoe, Johnston & McKenzie, 2004) though 30 kg nitrogen/hectare is usually sufficient.
  • The maximum phosphorus rate for a single application is 5 kg phosphorus/hectare (J. Forrest, pers. comm).
  • High maintenance active turf should not exceed applications of 100-200 kg/ha/yr for nitrogen and 0-50 kg/ha/yr of phosphorus.
  • Passive turf and foreshore area applications should not exceed 0-50 kg/ha/yr for nitrogen and 0-5 kg/ha/yr for phosphorus.
  • Keep a log book to record details of fertiliser and nutrient applications over the year for each application area including details such as weather conditions and monitoring information.
  • If fertiliser is required, apply in spring or early autumn (September, October, November, March and April) when grass grows rapidly. Apply the fertiliser in small amounts and often over these months instead of a single application. This will ensure all nutrients can be utilised by the turf.
  • Do not fertilise in summer or winter. Summer fertilising encourages over use of water and turf may grow excessively while fertiliser applied during winter may be washed into stormwater drains or leached into groundwater.
  • Do not apply fertiliser too close to hard surfaces such as roads. Fertiliser on hard surfaces will be washed into stormwater drains and end up in waterways.
  • Avoid applying fertiliser before heavy rainfall and do not over water turf as both actions could result in leaching of nutrients to groundwater and waterways.
  • Turf Managers and LGA Parks and Gardens Officers attend the Fertilise Wise Fertiliser Training course that is hosted by the Phosphorus Awareness Project in 2021.
  • Turf Managers refer to the following publications (see Reference section for full publication details) to obtain more information on fertiliser and irrigation best management practices:
    – Turf Sustain – A guide to turf management in Western Australia
    – Stormwater Management Manual for Western Australia
    – Western Australian environmental guidelines for the establishment and maintenance of turf grass areas

Turf Type

  • Turf Managers use kikuyu as the first choice for turfed areas as it has low fertiliser requirements, requires a medium water usage and is drought and wear tolerant.
  • Do not fertilise Couch and buffalo in the winter months as it could be in its dormant phase.

Nutrient Management

  • Turf Managers have measures in place to prevent grass clippings from entering stormwater drains as they are high in nutrients and will end up in waterway systems.
  • Where testing determines that nutrients are lacking, LGA’s should leave grass clippings on the mowed turf which returns the nutrients contained in the clippings back to the soil thus reducing fertiliser requirements. Clippings left in piles should be remowed to disperse clippings. If testing reveals that nutrients are required in turfed foreshore areas, this practice should be adopted in favour of adding fertiliser or to reduce fertiliser requirements and only controlled/slow release or low water soluble fertiliser should be used. If nutrients are not required, clippings should be removed from these areas.
  • When mowing, clippings should be thrown away from hard surfaces.
  • When mowing median strips and small areas near hard surfaces or waterways a catcher should be used.
  • If clippings need to be removed they should be composted and then utilised as a soil amendment.
  • Grass clippings that end up on hard surfaces such as roads and driveways should be swept up and removed (either manually or with a street sweeper) or blown off the hard surface back onto the turfed area and then left or removed based on nutrient testing.
  • Grass clippings should never be blown, hosed or swept onto hard surfaces such as roads or driveways as they can be washed or blown into stormwater drains ending up in waterway systems.
  • Mowing equipment should be cleaned before going to the next location.
  • When hosing down mowing equipment ensure that this water does not enter stormwater drains.
  • Turf Managers implement NIMP for streetscapes, as combined they are large areas within a LGA where nutrients and water usage should be controlled more appropriately.
  • Information about NIMP is available from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s website where the following documents can be located:
    * ‘Water Quality Protection Note 33 (June 2010) Nutrient and Irrigation Management Plans’
    * ‘Water Quality Information Sheet 04 (August 2010) Nutrient and Irrigation Management Plan Checklist’
  • LGA’s have a local native plant policy and plant local native species in their management areas as they require low levels of water and fertiliser and once established may require no further applications.
  • Information on local native plant policies and using local native species is available from the Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council’s Landscaping with Local Plants Policy and Guidelines section of their ‘Local Government Natural Resources Management Policy Manual’ and the Phosphorus Awareness Projects ‘Grow Local Plants’ leaflets.
  • LGA’s minimise the use of deciduous trees as their leaves decompose quickly releasing excessive nutrients in waterways.
  • LGA’s do not plant deciduous trees along roads where their falling leaves can enter stormwater drains and then waterways.
  • LGA’s use a street sweeper, on a regular basis, especially during the autumn months when deciduous leaves lose their leaves to prevent leaves entering stormwater drains and then waterways.
  • LGA’s provide compostable dog poo bags and bins in parks and foreshore reserves as dog poo is a major contributor of nutrients to groundwater and waterways.

Nutrient Education

  • LGA’s erect signage in foreshore reserves and parks educating the public about the effects of bread on waterways (eg. increased phosphorus levels and algal blooms) and waterbirds (eg. malnutrition and aggressive behaviour). The Phosphorus Awareness Project has a brochure which outlines this issue that could be the basis for signage (refer to picture at right).
  • LGA’s distribute information to their ratepayers about the effects of bread on waterways and waterbirds through local media, environmental workshops, LGA newsletters, website, brochures and Rangers talking to people about the disadvantages of feeding when it occurs.
  • LGA’s introduce Local Laws (and enforce those laws) that prohibit the feeding of birds.
  • LGA’s provide advice to ratepayers on fertiliser practices as ratepayers generally have limited knowledge of fertiliser management and would, when combined, have the largest turfed area in the LGA.
  • ‘Fertilise Wise’ leaflets are available for free from the Phosphorus Awareness Project to distribute to ratepayers.
  • LGA’s link the Fertilise Wise website – www.sercul.org.au/our-projects/fertilise-wise/ to their own website.
  • LGA’s host a ‘Great Gardens’ or ‘Beyond Gardens’ workshop to educate their ratepayers on fertiliser and water management and other garden issues. Workshops can be organised by contacting The Forever Project or the Beyond Gardens team.

Water Quality Monitoring

  • LGA’s regularly monitor wetlands, stormwater drains and compensation basins for nutrient levels to determine if pollution is occurring and potentially pinpoint sources.
  • LGA’s report these results to the local community reflecting their commitment to the environment and providing important information to community catchment and environment groups to determine where rehabilitation of waterways and education of general community members needs to occur.

Development Control

  • LGA’s impose NIMP conditions on developments, monitor these for compliance and prosecute for lack of compliance as new developments are potentially major sources of nutrients to groundwater and waterways.
  • LGA’s introduce Town Planning Scheme provisions or Planning Policies to enforce environmental conditions on developments to prevent environmental harm and allow the LGA to prosecute if developers are not adhering to best management practices.

Wastewater Systems

  • LGA’s encourage householders to connect to the main sewerage line as leaking septic tanks can contribute nutrients to groundwater and waterways.

Training Opportunity

The Fertilise Wise Fertiliser Training program was officially launched in April 2011.

The training is delivered by John Forrest and aims to train turf managers and local government officers in fertiliser best management practices, specific to Perth.

    On completion of the training you will have an understanding of:
  • Soils and plant requirements
  • Types of fertilisers and how to apply them
  • Environmental management – handling and contractor requirements
  • Auditing fertiliser applications
  • Rates of application – rates of nutrients
  • Monitoring fertiliser applications

Click here for the training curriculum

The course is $190 and consists of 8 hours of practical training. Turf managers and local government officers will on completion of the course have a fertiliser management plan for areas under their control.
The next course will be run:
* 2020

Please contact us to book a place at a training course or for more details about further Fertilise Wise training opportunities.
Click here to contact us!

The Fertilise Wise Fertiliser Training is organised by SERCUL, funded by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and supported by WALGA (Western Australian Local Government Association).