Often the number of turf soil samples and related phone calls to the lab increase in late August into September. Many of them with similar concerns as the turf growth slows and, in many cases, turns brown. Most are looking for what fertilizer or product to spray or apply to correct the issue. This is a simple fix, repeated liberal applications of dihydrogen monoxide… water. Applying more fertilizer is not always the answer.
We can see the same in crop production fields when the weather turns dry leading to reduced nutrient availability manifesting as visual deficiency symptomology, and possibly lower nutrient levels in tissue tests. While often the goal of crop fertility is seen as maximizing yields, additionally the goal of soil fertility is to reduce the risk of negative impacts to plant growth in challenging growing environments.
In either situation, being prepared ahead of time with adequate N for a strong and healthy plants, proper phosphorus levels to promote root development and sufficient potassium to aid in water management within the plant. Good fertility management aims to reduce the risk from uncontrollable factors, like droughty weather patterns, that can negatively impact crop nutrition. Keep in mind that controllable factors, such as soil compaction and poor drainage, can also manifest themselves as a nutrient deficiency.
When a plant is struggling, the immediate application of fertilizer is often not the answer. Could it be an underlying related agronomic issue? Could it be bad luck presenting you with an uncontrollable factor? Can the risk of a negative yield impact from this uncontrollable factor be mitigated in the future? The first step is using soil testing to ensure the foundational soil fertility in place in advance of the challenges of the growing season, and then use tissue test to verify at that the plants can access the soil fertility you have provided.