by Lou Newman, Nature Safe Regional Manager
Every material that is applied to turf and soil has associated consequences. Although we apply fertilizers for their chemical content, the very elements we want to supply to plants have other effects on the entire soil environment. Too often we think of soil as nothing more than an anchor for roots and pipes to take water and nutrition to the leaves.
But soils are their own biological worlds, supporting wildlife in the form of microbes and insects. Soils provide native minerals for use by the plant; and their electrostatic charge and pH can determine the effectiveness of fertilizers and other chemicals.
Nature Safe provides a slow acting, low salt and biologically active source of nutrition. Compared ounce for ounce to synthetics, it can look high priced. Before you dismiss Nature Safe as being out of your budget, you need to be aware of the hidden costs of that so called “inexpensive” fertilizer.
Synthetic nitrogen, in its more soluble forms, creates as many or more issues than it resolves. Yes, it is less per ton on the invoice, but what about the long term extra costs? The very solubility that makes it cheap allows nutrition to go unused; either as a gas (ever smell ammonia when applying? That’s some of the N you just paid for), as runoff or through leaching. If you apply it, and the plant can’t use it, money has been wasted.
The relative harshness of chemical N means other effects on the soil. Take a look at the chart on Page 4. This simply illustrates the other effects synthetic N application has on soils.
- Lack of carbon applied with the N starves soil microbes. This leads to lower organic matter and allows soils to compact, reducing its ability to buffer the myriad of minerals present or applied. Soil compaction is a main component in root loss. Root loss means turf that is more stressed, which leads to the need for more fertilizer and plant protection chemicals. The bottom line: higher overall cost.
- When applying chemical N, you need to apply more water. This leads to a surge of growth. The N is quickly used or displaced, resulting in reduced growth rate. This is called “surge and starve.” It leads to thatch build-up, which can harbor pathogens. So, chemicals need to be applied to prevent damage. Now you’re not only using more water and applying more chemicals, (higher costs), but the grass is weakened and susceptible to damage from mechanical means.
- The more soluble forms of N, or any chemical fertilizer, are soluble because they are a form of salt and dissolve well in water. But because of this characteristic, they leave behind salts in the soil. Salts have a detrimental affect on soil microorganisms. This provides an opportunity for pathogens to flourish and also contributes to soil compaction. Of course, here we are again with a situation that must be remedied by an application of more chemicals or an increase in labor. Guess what that means? You got it, higher costs.
So, the next time you think organics cost too much, pull out a copy of the chart. Realize that the use of Nature Safe not only grows great grass, but if considered as part of the whole system, can lower costs!