Healthy lawns grow in healthy soils.Lawn problems (disease, weeds, and insect infestations) often can be attributed to poor soils. Most healthy lawns can fend for themselves in the world if given a fighting chance by providing a healthy environment for them to grow. Take away that healthy environment and they become weakened and these opportunistic pests can over take them.
Ideal characteristics of good quality soil
Lawn Soil and the Importance of Bio-life
Most soils are teeming with life — microbial life — that is as important to our lives as the more visible flora and fauna we see around us. Just imagine if there were no decomposers in the soil. In a matter of years, we would be buried in organic debris that no longer breaks down. Nutrient cycles would grind to a halt and plants would not survive without our constant feeding. And soil microbes have been the source of life-saving compounds such as antibiotics (e.g. penicillin) that we have come to rely on.
As small as they are, soil microorganisms are the real giants in your lawn, and your lawn soil is swarming with millions of these microorganisms. This “living-soil-life” helps keep your soil healthy, decompose organic matter, replenish soil nutrients, form humus, store and regulate water, promote root growth, increase nutrient uptake, and (over time) the breakdown of chemical herbicides and pesticides. These microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.
• 10,000 to 20,000 species of bacteria per gram.
• Aerobic bacteria populations should be between 100 million to 10 billion CFU/gdw* CFU’s / gdw (*colony forming units per dry gram weight).
• Aerobic bacteria should outnumber anaerobic bacteria by ratio of 10:1 or more.
• Pseudomonas bacteria populations should be between 1 thousand to 1 million CFU/gdw* CFU’s / gdw (*colony forming units per dry gram weight).
• Nitrogen-fixing bacteria populations should be between 1 thousand to 1 million • Yeasts and fungi populations should be between 1 to 10 thousand CFU/gdw* CFU’s / gdw (*colony forming units per dry gram weight).
• Actinomycetes populations should be between 1 to 100 million CFU/gdw* CFU’s / gdw(*colony forming units per dry gram weight).
Bacteria -What bacteria lack in size, they make up in numbers. They are tiny, one-celled organisms. A teaspoon of productive soil generally contains between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria.
Bacteria have four functional groups.
1. Most are decomposers that consume simple carbon compounds. By this process, they convert energy in soil organic matter into forms useful to the rest of the organisms. A number of decomposers, over time, can break down pesticides and pollutants in soil. Decomposers are especially important in stopping or retaining, nutrients in their cells, thus preventing the loss of nutrients, such as nitrogen, from the rooting zone.
2. A second group is the mutualists that form partnerships with plants. The most well-known of these are the nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
3. The third group is the pathogens.
4. A fourth group, called lithotrophs (literally meaning rock eaters) or chemoautotrophs (which are able to synthesize all of the organic compounds they need from inorganic raw materials in the absence of sunlight), obtains its energy from compounds of nitrogen, sulfur, iron or hydrogen instead of from carbon compounds.
· They perform important services related to water dynamics.
· nutrient cycling
· Disease suppression.
· Many organisms will compete with disease-causing organisms in roots and on aboveground surfaces of plants.
Nitrogen-fixing- The plant supplies simple carbon compounds to the bacteria, and it converts nitrogen (N2) from air into a form the plant host can use. When leaves or roots from the host plant decompose, soil nitrogen increases in the surrounding area.
Nitrifying- change ammonium to nitrite then to nitrate – a preferred form of nitrogen for grasses.
Denitrifying – convert nitrate to nitrogen (N2) or nitrous oxide (N2O) gas. Denitrifiers are anaerobic, meaning they are active where oxygen is absent, such as in saturated soils or inside soil aggregates.
Actinomycetes- are a large group of bacteria that grow as hyphae like fungi . They are responsible for the characteristically “earthy” smell of freshly turned, healthy soil. Actinomycetes decompose a wide array of hard-to-decompose compounds and are active at high pH levels. A number of antibiotics are produced by Actinomycetes such as Streptomyces.
Fungi Basically there are two types of fungi – Mycorrhizal and normal. Fungi thrive in well-drained, neutral to acidic, aerated soils. Normal fungi help decompose the organic matter in litter and soil but play less of an overall role. Mycorrhizal fungi help develop healthy root systems by growing on plant roots. The fungus is actually a network of filaments that grow in and around the plant root cells, forming a mass that extends considerably beyond the plant’s root system. This essentially extends the plant’s reach to water and nutrients, allowing it to utilize more of the soil’s resources.
ProtozoaThese microorganisms are present in almost all soils. They feed on bacteria and other protozoa. Protozoa are classified into three types based on their mobility: Amoebae, Flagellates, and Ciliates. Good protozoa feed on bacteria and release nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil. Since they live in and around roots the plants benefit from this supply of food.
Protozoa are a major part of the living soil.
· Protozoa are single-celled animals that feed on bacteria, other protozoa, organic matter, and sometimes fungi.
· They are several times larger than bacteria.
· The numbers of protozoa in the soil vary – from a 1,000 per teaspoon in infertile soils to a 1,000,000 per teaspoon in some fertile soils.
Protozoa are divided into three groups based on their shape:
· Are the largest of the protozoa and are mobile by means of hair-like cilia.
· They eat the other two types of protozoa, also bacteria.
· They eat up to 10,000 bacteria per day, and make nitrogen available to plants.
· Ciliates are least numerous of the 3 groups.
· Ciliates move rapidly through soil using the cilias like boat oars.
· They can be large and they move by means of a pseudopod.
· Amoebae are divided into testate amoebae and naked amoebae.
· One group of amoebae, like vampires, eat fungi and root pathogens.
· They are the smallest of the protozoa and use whip-like flagella to propel or pull its way through soil.
Functions of Protozoa
1. Protozoa help mineralize nutrients, which make them available for use by plants and other soil organisms.
2. Protozoa regulate bacteria populations as they graze on bacteria and it seems to stimulate growth of that bacterial population.
3. Protozoa is a food source for other soil organisms.
4. They help to suppress disease by feeding on pathogens.
5. Protozoa release excess nitrogen as they eat bacteria that will then be used by plants and other members of the food web.
A gram of garden soil can contain around one million fungi, such as yeasts and moulds. Fungi have no chlorophyll, and are not able to photosynthesize; besides, they can’t use atmospheric carbon dioxide as a source of carbon, therefore they are chemo-heterotrophic, meaning that, like animals, they require a chemical source of energy rather than being able to use light as an energy source, as well as organic substrates to get carbon for growth and development.
Many fungi are parasitic, often causing disease to their living host plant, although some have beneficial relationships with living plants as we shall see below. In terms of soil and humus creation, the most important fungi tend to be saprotrophic, that is, they live on dead or decaying organic matter, thus breaking it down and converting it to forms that are available to the higher plants. A succession of fungi species will colonize the dead matter, beginning with those that use sugars and starches, which are succeeded by those that are able to break down cellulose and lignins.
Fungi spread underground by sending long thin threads known as mycelium throughout the soil; these threads can be observed throughout many soils and compost heaps. From the mycelia the fungi is able to throw up its fruiting bodies, the visible part above the soil (e.g., mushrooms, toadstools and puffballs), which may contain millions of spores. When the fruiting body bursts, these spores are dispersed through the air to settle in fresh environments, and are able to lie dormant for up to years until the right conditions for their activation arise or the right food is made available.
How to Help Soil Microorganisms Thrive in Your lawn Soil
- Minimize soil compaction with Aerify. Seventy five percent (75%) of soil organisms are found in the top 2 inches (5cm) of soil.
- Provide a lot of carbon-based food (organic matter) with Nature’s Magic, lawn clippings and a biological dethatcher
- Maintain a moist habitat. Water your lawn properly
- Keep the soil oxygen content high with organic matter
- Do not let the soil go bare. Bare soil loses moisture, increases temperatures, and lacks organic matter.
- Minimize soil disturbance. Use minimal tillage or no-tillage to minimize destruction of soil organisms and their environment.
- Use organic fertilizers only
- Apply fertilizer in small doses and when the soil needs it
- Check the soil pH and modify it to keep it in the proper range
- Improve soils with poor drainage
Most important, consider your soil’s microorganisms as part of your complete lawn ecosystem. These microorganisms will actively decompose organic matter and replenishes nutrients, ensuring soil and plant health.
While it is important for a lawn to be watered regularly, adequate lawn drainage is essential for a healthy lawn. If your yard has some swampy looking areas after every rain, here are a few suggestions to assist you with your lawn drainage problems.
Lawn drainage problems, in most cases, are caused by compacted soil. This is a problem that can be fixed with a little time and patience, as well as following these few simple steps:
2. Leave the grass clippings on your lawn instead of bagging them. As they decompose they will add additional nutrients to your soil.
3. Build up healthy soil utilizing Nature’s Magic,a blend of two of the best soil activators and plant health products in the world: Humic Acid (often called liquid humus) and Seaweed (kelp). It serves three major functions that result in better soil and plant health:
1. It helps detoxify and buffer chemicals and salts that prevent bioactivity in the soil.
2. It helps generate the soil-improving microbes necessary for good soil structure, bioactivity and plant health.
3. It provides numerous plant trace nutrients and biostimulants.
Organic Matter and Your Lawns Soil
Of all the components of soil, organic matter is probably the most important and most misunderstood. It serves as a reservoir of nutrients and water in the soil, aids in reducing compaction and surface crusting, and increases water, air and nutrient infiltration into the soil.
What is Organic Matter – Material?
Organic material is composed of two classes – “Green Material” and “Brown Material” “Green Material” consists of lawn clippings, manures, compost, etc. It is high in nitrogen content and low in carbon content. “Brown Material” consists of fallen dead leaves and twigs. It is high in carbon content and low in nitrogen content. “Green Material” is the food supply for the soil microorganisms important to decomposition of organic material and nutrients and micronutrients needed to sustain plants. “Brown Material is the home for these microorganisms.
Organic matter is stable in the soil. It is organic material that has been decomposed until it is resistant to further decomposition. Environmental increases in temperature, oxygen, and moisture conditions will speed up decomposition. As much as 90 percent of organic material disappears quickly because of decomposition (10 pounds of organic material becomes 1 pound of organic matter). It is the stable organic matterthat is analyzed in the soil test.
What Are the Benefits of Organic Matter?
- Nutrient Supply
Organic matter is a reservoir of nutrients that can be released to the soil. Each percent of organic matter in the soil releases 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen, 4.5 to 6.6 pounds of P2O5, and 2 to 3 pounds of sulfur per year. The nutrient release occurs predominantly in the spring and summer, so summer lawns benefit more from organic-matter mineralization than winter lawns.
- Water-Holding Capacity
Organic matter behaves somewhat like a sponge, with the ability to absorb and hold up to 90 percent of its weight in water. A great advantage of the water-holding capacity of organic matter is that the matter will release most of the water that it absorbs to plants. In contrast, earth holds great quantities of water, but much of it is unavailable to plants.
- Soil Structure Aggregation
Organic matter causes soil to clump and form soil aggregates, which improves soil structure. With better soil structure, permeability (infiltration of water through the soil) improves, in turn improving the soil’s ability to take up and hold water.
- Erosion Prevention
This property of organic matter is not widely known. Data used in the universal soil loss equation indicate that increasing soil organic matter from 1 to 3 percent can reduce erosion 20 to 33 percent because of increased water infiltration and stable soil aggregate formation caused by organic matter.
How Can You Maintain or Improve Soil Organic Matter Levels?
Building soil organic matter is a long-term process but is very beneficial. Here are a few ways to do it.
- Use mulching blades on you mowers
Lawn clippings contain all the nutrients and micronutrients that the plant needed to grow. Mulching does not contribute to lawn thatch but does reduce fertilization needs. Lawn clippings “green Organic material” decomposes at a 1:10 ratio into organic matter.
- Reduce Erosion
most soil organic matter is in the topsoil. When soil erodes, organic matter goes with it. Saving soil and soil organic matter go hand in hand.
- Soil-Test and Fertilize Properly
you may not have considered this one. Proper fertilization encourages growth of plants, which increases root growth. Increased root growth can help build or maintain soil organic matter, especially if you are not removing much of the top growth (mulching).
Consider the benefits of this valuable resource and how you can manage your operation to build, or at least maintain, the organic matter in your soil.
Humic Acid’s Role in Improving Soil Quality and Plant Growth
What is Humus or Humic Acid?
The term “humus” dates back to the time of the Romans, when it was frequently used to designate the soil as a whole. It was later applied to the organic matter of soils and composts, or to different fractions of this organic matter; as well as, to complexes formed from a variety of natural organic substances. Humus compounds are complex natural organic compounds that are formed in soils from plant residues, by a process of “humification”. Humus materials are complex aggregate of brown to dark colored amorphous substances, which have originated during the decomposition of plant and animal residues by microorganisms, under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Chemically, humus consists of certain constituents of the original plant material resistant to further decomposition; of substances undergoing decomposition; of complexes resulting from decomposition, either by processes of hydrolysis or by oxidation and reduction; and of various compounds synthesized by microorganisms.
Why Use Humic Acid?
Today, there is a recognized and increasing use of Humic acids for their beneficial impact on the growth and cultivation of crops (vegetable & non-vegetable), citrus, turf, flowers, and particularly in organically-deficient soils. Humic acid is not a fertilizer as it does not directly provide nutrients to plants, but is a compliment to fertilizer. Benefits include:
- Addition of organic matter to organically-deficient soils
- Increase root vitality
- Improved nutrient uptake
- Increased chlorophyll synthesis
- Better seed germination
- Increased fertilizer retention
- Stimulate beneficial microbial activity
How Does Humic Acid Improve Soil?
When applied to clay soils, Humic acid can help break up compacted soils, allowing for enhanced water penetration and better root zone growth and development. When applied to sandy soils, Humic acid adds essential organic matter necessary for water retention thus improving root growth and enhancing the sandy soil’s ability to retain and not leach out vital plant nutrients.
How Does Humic Acid Improve Plant Growth?
As mentioned above, one way plant growth is improved is through the structural improvement of both clay and sandy soil allowing for better root growth development.
Plant growth is also improved by the ability of the plant to uptake and receives more nutrients. Humic acid is especially beneficial in freeing up nutrients in the soil so that they are made available to the plant as needed. Humic acid is also especially important because of its ability to chelate micronutrients increasing their bio-availability.
How Does Humic Acid Affect Microbial Activity and what is its Role?
The activities of beneficial soil microbes are crucial for the sustainability of any soil and plant growth. Humic acid stimulates microbial activity by providing the indigenous microbes with a carbon source for food, thus encouraging their growth and activity. Soil microbes are responsible for solubilizing vital nutrients such as phosphorus that can then be absorbed by the Humic acid and in turn made available to the plant. Additionally, microbes are responsible for the continued development of humus in the soil as it continues to break down not fully decomposed organic matter. This in-situ production of humus continues to naturally add to the Humic acid base and its benefits.
Humic Acid’s Role in Fertilization
Humic acid is technically not a fertilizer, although in some walks people do consider it that. Humic acid is an effective agent to use as a complement to organic fertilizers. In many instances, regular Humic acid use will reduce the need for fertilization due to the soil’s and plant’s ability to make better use of it. In some occurrences, fertilization can be eliminated entirely if sufficient organic material is present and the soil can become self-sustaining through microbial processes and humus production. One gallon of our Humic Acid product, Nature’s Magic, is equivalent to 7 tons of manure in terms of soil bioactivation.