In Part I: Balancing Soils – Understanding Critical Relationships, we discussed the importance of balancing carbon and nitrogen. Maintaining the mutualistic relationship between plants and biology is critical to achieving a balanced soil environment and maximizing plant health. What I would like to do now is define the basic process of balancing soils by identifying specific action steps and specific products to support those actions.

The Process of Balancing Soil

1. Evaluation – Chemical, Physical, and Biological

  • Chemical- Evaluate soils for accessibility (soil test), availability (paste extract), and mobility (tissue test) of plant essential nutrients.
  • Physical- Evaluate soil structure, texture, amount and type of organic matter (ISTRC test).
  • Biological- Evaluate plant biomass (rooting, thatch, and shoot density), soil biological function, and sustainability.
  • Continually monitor and remediate, as needed, any excessive accumulation of bicarbonates and sodium in the soil profile.

2. Chemical Balancing with Foundation Minerals

  • Utilize granular and liquid-applied nutrients to balance base cation nutrients (Ca, Mg, K, Na, and H).
  • Ensure a sufficient supply of phosphorus and adequate levels of trace elements.

3. Maintain Adequate Soil and Plant Energy

  • Soil microbes and plants need sufficient nitrogen (proteins) to sustain growth and return residues to the soil profile.
  • Adjust soil applications of synthetic nitrogen relative to the amount of active organic matter present in the soil. Adjust foliar applications of nitrogen to maintain plant health with a minimal amount of tissue growth.
  • Synthetic sources of nitrogen are less dependent on biological activity and quicker to provide the desired plant response.

4. Build a Supply of Soil Carbon

  • The controlled decomposition of soil organic matter provides a stable source of carbon, nitrogen, and other plant essential minerals. Both carbon (carbohydrates) and nitrogen (proteins) provide microbes with food and energy for sustainability, as well as the ability to build new cells and grow.
  • When active soil organic matter is depleted, exogenous applications of soil stable carbon are necessary to maintain biological stability. These carbon sources can come from humic substances (i.e. humin, humic acid, and fulvic acid) or non-humic substances (i.e. amino acids, proteins, starches, and sugars).
  • The ideal soil carbon is a nitrogen ratio that favors the controlled decomposition of organic matter by microorganisms (20:1).

5. Biological Enhancement

  • Bio supplementation with Holganix can speed up the process of achieving a balanced diverse population of beneficial soil microorganisms.
  • The limiting factors for sustaining a biologically active soil are favorable environmental conditions and adequate food sources (active soil organic matter – carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen).

The above-outlined process is the road map for achieving a balanced soil and maximizing plant health. Today, many of our high profile soils are severely challenged from a combination of excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, aggressive cultural activities, and reduced quality irrigation water. The end result is soil severely depleted in both active and passive organic matter, which reduces the ability of the soil to support a balanced, biologically active population of beneficial microorganisms. Without the support of soil biology, plant health is at risk from reduced nutrient and water access and exposure to pathogens and parasites. With the breakdown of both the carbon and nitrogen cycle, the entire soil food web is in jeopardy. Soils are no longer working for us.

Remediating depleted soils requires the addition of high carbon fertilizers in conjunction with carbon based soil supplements. This will provide a readily available food source to increase and sustain microbial activity. Balanced inputs of available nitrogen are also important in reestablishing soil organic residues. Since the ideal ratio of carbon to nitrogen is 20:1, carbon inputs need to be much higher than nitrogen to effectively promote the decomposition of soil organic residues. With the eventual accumulation of soil humus, soils begin to open up with improved air and water movement. In addition, with this accumulation, the soil will develop enhanced nutrient retention and increased soil buffers, which will protect plant roots from pathogens. ATS has assembled a comprehensive line of products to assist in the remediation process of severely challenged soils and help stop the depletion spiral attributed to excessive chemical and cultural activities.

Carbon-Based Fertility with Bio Supplementation

Healthy Grow + Holganix (HGHx)
This is an exceptionally well-humified (aerobically decomposed) poultry litter compost, which contains natural nutrients and indigenous biology inoculated with liquid Holganix. The unique combination results in a product capable of delivering diverse living biology, along with sustainable high carbon food sources and additional prebiotics to support plant and soil health. The ideal soil enhancing protocol is to incorporate HGHx directly into the soil profile at aerification as a supplement to monthly liquid Holganix applications. In severely depleted soils or where excessive thatch accumulation is an issue, additional broadcast applications of HGHx will help fast track the remediation process. Advanced Turf Solutions carries three Healthy Grow + Holganix products: HG 10-3-2 + Holganix, HG 8-3-5 + Holganix, HG 2-4-3 + Holganix.

Soil and Plant Energy – Liquid Applied Nutrients

Foliar-Pak A.S. Fusion 7-0-0
This product is an ammonia sulfate supplement with amino acids and manganese. It is formulated to provide low rates of AS to stimulate photosynthesis and carbohydrate production when soil temperatures are less than ideal for optimum growth. This is an excellent early spring and late fall partner with Foliar-Pak Amperage 10-0-0.

Foliar-Pak 14-2-4 with Micros and L-Amino Acids
Multiple sources of plant available nitrogen are contained in this product. It also includes amino acids and trace elements. It is formulated to maintain metabolic activity, while conserving valuable plant energy during the summer months.

Foliar-Pak L-18 Activator (Plant Available Amino Acids)
L-18 Activator is 20% plant amino acids by weight, which is a very high load compared to other products on the market. Plants are capable of assimilating amino acids directly (roots and foliage) and utilizing them as an efficient source of nitrogen. Higher rates of L-18 in the spring and fall will promote photosynthesis. It will also inhibit nitrate uptake, while conserving valuable plant energy. Amino acids can attach to clay colloids, resulting in reduced nitrogen leaching potential. Amino acids enhance biological activity by providing a good source of soil carbon and can also facilitate plant uptake of certain essential nutrients.

Chemical Soil Balancing – Liquid Applied Soil Stable Nutrients

Foliar-Pak MKS Turbo 0-0-5
This product contains organic, acid-based Armament technology, which protects mineral molecules in the rhizosphere. The protection promotes a steady plant available source of magnesium, potassium, and sulfur over a 30-60 day period. When applied monthly, MKS Turbo is a very safe and compatible product that can be utilized throughout the growing season.

Foliar-Pak Carbosential Fe
Infusing iron molecules within a complex carbohydrate matrix allows this product to have rapid foliar uptake and a protected, slowly available source of iron (very soil stable). Supplemental L-amino acids facilitate plant uptake of iron, in addition, to providing stable sources of carbon and nitrogen. Monthly applications of Carbosential Fe guarantee plants will get needed iron throughout the growing season. Manganese and iron, together, stimulate photosynthetic activity and enhanced carbohydrate production.

Carbon-Based Bionutritional Substances – Liquid Applied Nutrients

Foliar-Pak Amperage 10-0-0
Amperage contains Mn, Fe, Zn, molasses, and urea. The black strap molasses component is a simple sugar, which provides a readily available carbohydrate energy source to the plant at times when photosynthesis is naturally reduced. Zinc enhances protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism, which facilitates energy production. The manganese and iron stimulate the plant to increase photosynthetic production. The molasses is an excellent source of carbon, providing food and energy to enhance microbial soil activity. When Amperage is tanked mix with A.S. Fusion (AS) in early spring or late fall, it has the beneficial effect of either initiating or extending photosynthetic activity. This results in greater carbohydrate storage and improved plant efficiency. During the summer months, Amperage will encourage enhanced plant recovery from stress or physical damage.

Foliar-Pak Promote 1-0-4
Promote is a combination of seaweed extracts, humic substances, sugars and organic acids. It provides multiple sources of soil carbon, amino acids, enzymes, and proteins. Monthly applications of Promote throughout the growing season add an additional layer of plant protection from moisture and heat stress. Higher rates of Promote in early spring and late fall promote photosynthesis and enhance chlorophyll production.

The most reliable method for controlling biological balance is to manage soil carbon and nitrogen. All of the products mentioned are very good sources of carbon and provide other important nutritional benefits along the way. There is no one magic bullet that can miraculously fix broken soils. It takes a concerted effort, utilizing both foliar and soil applied products. Balancing soils can be a slow and ongoing procedure, which requires constant attentiveness to the process, with the end result well worth the effort.