All health begins with the soil! In fact the health of plants, animals, and even man is connected to the health of the soil.Traditionally, the lawn owner has relied on routine applications of nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium (N-P-K) fertilizers. They help green and thicken the lawn for a short time (usually up to six weeks), but they will eventually degrade the “soil” health. While N-P-K fertilizers help provide macronutrients to improve turfgrass growth, they largely bypass the beneficial soil microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, algae, etc.) because they are soluble in water. The latter is the foundation to long-term, healthy, weed-resistant turf.
Before we tell you how to improve your soil’s health, let’s quickly define what soil actually is.
Every soil has basically five components.
- Finely divided rock. This rock comes from the mountains, hills and sedimentary rock that has been laid down through the action of water.
- Living microorganisms. Healthy, humus-rich, soil can contain over one billion microorganisms per square inch.
- Humus. The decayed and decaying remains of animal and vegetable life which provide natural food for soil microorganisms.
- Water. The essential processes of life occur in the water held by the humus of the soil and the water films on the soil particles.
- Air. The air helps plants obtain the carbon needed to manufacture carbohydrates, the building block of life on this earth. Grass roots will penetrate the soil no deeper than the air penetrates.
Improving Your Soil’s Health
Proper soil health depends on many factors, but three are most important – proper pH, loose/porous soil, and healthy microbial populations. Let’s explain the importance of each and how you can improve your soil’s health.
A well-balanced soil pH. An imbalanced soil pH, either with too much acidity (H+ ions) or too much alkalinity (OH- ions), greatly impairs the amount of lawn fertilizer nutrients – and other nutrients and minerals in the soil – that are absorbed by grass plants. If the soil solution (water in the soil) and/or soil colloids (microscopic soil particles that harbor nutrients until they are ready to release to plant roots) get filled up with too many H+ or OH- ions, then “good” nutrients simply can’t get to the plant for absorption. Indeed, if the soil pH is very poor, then nutrients may leach. (A study at Cornell University showed that 20% to 70% of nutrients may be wasted if soil pH is too low.)
Aerating hard soil. It is vital that soil is loose and porous. Hard soils prevent air and water from penetrating into the root zone of plants. This inhibits root growth and allows for plants to wilt and, if very compacted, die. Hard soil can cause nutrient runoff, while also allowing lawn diseases to occur and spread more rapidly. Loose soil keeps vital air and water flowing to the plant. As with people, air and water are critical to the proper biological function, life, and health of plants. Accordingly, the soil microbial life rely on air and water to live, too.
Healthy microbial populations. There is a direct relationship between the quantity of organic material in the soil and the number of microbes in the soil. The more organic matter (leaves, humus, manures, compost, etc.) in the soil, the more biologically active the soil is and, accordingly, the more beneficial microbes there are. Biologically healthy soils provide the ideal foundation for grass plants to flourish and resist diseases, insects and environmental stresses.
Common, synthetic fertilizers release to grasses quickly (usually within six weeks), bypassing much of the microbial life, and go right to the plant. Pesticides kill weeds and insects, but do harm to beneficial microbes as well. Adding organic fertilizers and natural soil amendments to the lawn is extremely important to keep soil microbial populations healthy and abundant. Sadly, overuse of synthetic products have had the opposite effect on the soil biology.
NEW MAG-I-CAL PLUS! Mag-I-Cal Plus is a unique, natural, three-way SOIL FOOD that adjusts soil pH, loosen/aerates hard soil, and revives soil microbes.
First, on the pH front, there is a Mag-I-Cal Plus for Acidic Soils (ideal for pH that is below 6.5) and Mag-I-Cal Plus for Alkaline Soils (ideal for pH that is above 7) to rapidly adjust soil pH to the correct range.
Second, Mag-I-Cal Plus for Acidic Soils and Mag-I-Cal Plus for Alklaline Soils contain a highly concentrated gypsum that is specially formulated to loosen and aerate hard soils quickly. (Core aerating machines provide temporary results and will “re-compact” in a few months when the cores resettle.)
Finally, each version of Mag-I-Cal Plus stimulates soil microbial life by providing natural humates and iron to the soil. Furthermore, Mag-I-Cal Plus for Acidic Soil adds bio-char, which further stimulates microbes and provides greater water retention for plants. (Bio-char is not found in Mag-I-Cal Plus for Alkaline Soil because it tends to add alkalinity to the soil.)