By Lou Newman, Southeastern Regional Manager

The economy continues to put pressure on superintendents everywhere. Rounds played continue to be at best level with last year. Costs go up while budgets are stagnant or decreasing and expectations are as high as ever. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some way to get some free labor to help provide nutrition to your course? There is, and it’s right under everybody’s nose…or should I say feet!

That’s right, in every soil there is the potential for free help from billions of helpers, if we would but use them. They are called microbes, microorganisms, soil life, biota or soil fauna. They exist in some form and at some level in every soil whether a sand based man-made green, a landscaped bed, a native fairway or an untouched wetland.

Soils have three major components, minerals, organic matter and biota. The major thrust of all research and learning for the past century has been with the mineral component. We are well versed in the required levels of all chemical elements. In this school of thought, soil is more or less viewed as only a means to hold roots and transfer soluble elements to the roots of the plant. And while this is obviously a critical and important facet of plant nutrition, it is not the full story.

Organic matter (OM) has a long acknowledged role in soil structure. While it comprises only about 2-5% of soil mass, it can play a large part in water holding capacity, drainage, soil buffering and compaction resistance. In the last two decades more and more turf managers (and farmers for that matter) understand the need to maintain adequate levels of OM. Once thought of as only the bane of turf managers in the form of thatch, OM in the soil profile is recognized as a necessary factor in the healthy growth of plants, especially roots.

We are now on the cusp of recognizing and utilizing the third major component of soil, and that is the soil life. Soil biota is a term that encompasses all living organisms from earthworms to bacteria. The vast majority of soil life is in the form of bacteria. These little guys are very intimately involved in a huge cross section of all chemical changes that occur in soil. They consume carbon, they convert nitrogen, they render insoluble minerals available, they secrete substances that build soil structure, they create heat that warms root zones as well as a myriad of other processes, some of which we are still discovering.

Fungi decompose organic matter, create humus and, perhaps most importantly, through Mycorrhiza, make vast amounts of nutrition available to plants by altering availability and increasing a roots capacity for water uptake and drought resistance.

We have long thought of bacteria and fungi only in the terms of pathogens that are to be avoided, controlled or eliminated. But we have overlooked the beneficial organisms and their effects. By promoting the growth of beneficial microbes, we reduce the possibility of incidence of pathogens. Only one organism can occupy a given space at a time. This is the biological rule termed competitive exclusion. Beneficials are far more adaptive than pathogens and given the chance will out-compete pathogens for a place in the soil.

These are the billions of little workers that we can use to help establish prize winning turf. These guys work 24/7. In warm weather, when plants grow faster and require more food, beneficial microbes also increase in activity. In cool weather, plants slow down, and so do these little guys. They help make insoluble chemical forms soluble, they capture soluble forms and hold it for a few days as part of their bodies. Though tiny, their sheer numbers amount to far more mass than historically recognized. And to keep them happy, you need to keep a few things in mind:

  • Harsh chemicals can reduce the number of soil microbes. Any sudden increase in chemistry can kill off beneficials, and in some cases make it easier for pathogens to get established
  • Most fertilizers are salt based, and the high application of soluble, salt based products can literally dry out microorganisms just as they can damage roots and cause desiccation.
  • Slow release fertilizers are better suited to maintaining microbe populations. The availability of chemicals in a slower release pattern does not disturb soil life to any great extent.
  • Microbes consume more than just simple available nutrients. They like carbon and proteins. This is what they are made of and it is natural that they are well suited for exploiting these substances for their own use.

Nature Safe is produced to feed this microbial population. Nature Safe is slow release nutrition, protein based nitrogen and phosphorous, is easy to apply, feeds for months, has an extremely low salt index and promotes the growth of soil microbes so they not only capture the nutrition in the Nature Safe, but also from native soil minerals and conventional fertilizers.

Plant nutrition is not a chemical system, it is a biochemical system, and recognizing it as such means you can do a better job. Used alone, or applied with conventional fertilizers in fairway blends, Nature Safe will increase the microbe populations putting all these guys to work for you. It’s free labor, who works overtime, with one goal in mind. Isn’t it time to put them to work for you?