I recently attended the Carolina Golf Course Superintendents Annual Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC. It is always brimming with a multiplicity of seminar possibilities. There was a four hour session led by Dr. Richard Cooper, NCSU, titled “Understanding Biostimulants and Biological Products.” Usually, just about any session that had the prefix “bio” in it assured me a very quiet, lonely time in a remote and hard to find room where questions from the presenter fell onto few ears and caused awkward silences. That’s what I expected here. How wrong I was!

The room, although not overly large, was packed and the session had been closed due to no more seats. This was true of only two other sessions out of a total of over 40. Dr. Cooper gave a lively, informed presentation. Rather than having to pull responses from the attendees, the session was conducted as a running conversation. Now, you might think that only the youngest, more environmentally oriented superintendents would attend. Wrong again! There were ladies and gentlemen of all ages, the oldest being, well, almost my age! (Whew, that is old!).

Here’s what I found out.

Biostimulants, those products that contain auxins, cytokinins and other plant hormones, have a measurable impact on the production of roots and the uptake of nutrients and enhance metabolism. These stimulants can be derived from a host of sources, the most common being kelp (sea weed), B-vitamins, yucca and yeasts. They provide enzymes, chemical buffers and even some microorganisms (notably mycorrhiza) that are found naturally in the source materials and are concentrated for commercial application. Dr. Cooper’s research showed that at high rates they can influence rooting, but this may not lead to readily visible quality, so use only if your budget can justify.

Humic acids are a catchall name for a wide variety of naturally occurring compounds. They are effective in aiding growth, though the exact mechanism is not specifically known. It is believed that they affect membrane permeability and aid in the absorption of nutritional elements. Chlorophyll production increases, which promotes photosynthesis and the efficient use of mineral nutrition. Dr. Cooper’s research shows that the introduction of humate substances into the root zone gave greater rooting than the control plants. Getting the biostimulants into the root zone, though, is an issue.

Microbial inoculates, affectionately known as Bugs in a Jug, is the addition of beneficial microorganism packages used to inoculate soils with desired microbe populations that then reproduce to aid plant growth or elemental availability. Despite the good intentions, or scientific logic behind these products, it has been repeatedly found that there is no physical or practical way to affect native soil microbe populations. There are just too many existing microorganisms, in the hundreds of billions, and the sheer volume of existing soil verses what can be applied.

Then Dr. Cooper said some very important things.

First, whether using biostimulants or humic acids to spur root growth, neither do any good without actual nutrition being added to the process. For plants to induce new roots or expand existing roots, they must have the basic building blocks of plant matter to capitalize on the use of any additional growth enhancers.

Second, the most important factor in choosing fertilizers is the amino acid content. High soluble N sources will give short term feed, but the lack of amino acids inhibits the biological process of plant feeding. Plant nutrient uptake is not just a chemical process, it is a biochemical process. So, pick fertilizers that build the soil and, in turn, will build the plant.

Third, building the soil, especially on greens that are already under stress from mowing, is the best way to decrease additional stress related damage due to heat, drought, cold and disease.

Nature Safe provides ample nutrition for plants to take advantage of the growth spurred by enhancement products. In fact, it has the highest levels of nutrition in the bag of any organic.

Nature Safe has high amino acid content. By using a digestible protein as the basis for our N source, we increase the percentage of amino acid content in the protein we use. This means not only are our analyses higher, but the content is more potent due to the constituent make up as well as the easier digestibility by soil microorganism.

Since the nutrition derived from Nature Safe is made available by the biological process of microorganism breakdown, Nature Safe feeds in the very biochemical manner described by Dr. Cooper. This also means that when the biological processes for plant growth speed up or slow down due to environmental factors, the release of soluble nutrition by microbes also speeds up or slows down at the same rate. This is the very characteristic that makes Nature Safe so efficient.

We have always recommended the best way to plant health is through soil health. Soil and plants represent a symbiotic relationship that is integral to the long term health, beauty, viability and stress resistance of turf and other plants.