Roots vs. Shoots
It's an age old struggle in the lawn care world. Maintenance programs that promote root growth as opposed to promoting shoot (or leaf) growth. I know it's not exactly the Hatfields vs. McCoys when it comes to feuds or even crunchy vs. smooth when it comes to peanut butter...but for lawn care people it's a pretty big deal.
Stimulate The Shoot
Stimulating shoot or leaf growth in your lawn is pretty simple. It involves massive quantities of high nitrogen fertilizer and...that's about it. The nitrogen (the first number on any fertilizer label) will cause the blades of grass to green up and grow. If you want this to happen quickly, you use a fast release form of nitrogen (which, by the way, is cheaper than slow release nitrogen). Choosing this method, you can turn a yellow lawn emerald green in a few days time. Pretty impressive.
Stimulate The Root
Stimulating root growth, on the other hand. isn't nearly as exciting. Yes, you still want to fertilize with nitrogen but you use lower rates and opt for a slow release form. The resulting slower green up and growth prevents the grass plant from focusing all of its energy on shoot growth. A lawn fed in this manner will take a few weeks to green up. In addition, you will want to test and correct the soil, schedule regular core aeration along with a number of other things to ensure good root growth. Boooooring!
If the argument ended there it would be a slam dunk for the 'shoots' crowd. In the interest of full disclosure though, we have to mention that using a fast release, high nitrogen fertility program will also lead to a lawn that is more susceptible to drought stress, more prone to disease infestation, less resistant to insects and puts our surface waters at much greater risk of pollution problems due to runoff.
Conversely, the 'roots' program that uses lower rates of nitrogen in a slow release form and includes all of the other things that promote root growth will, over time, yield a thicker lawn that is more resistant to stress, requires fewer chemical pesticides and is more environmentally friendly.
So which would you choose? Do you want the 'sizzle' of a quick green up shoots program or the 'steak' of a long term roots program? Myself, I’m a steak kinda guy.