Dr Deidre Charleston - The clocks have moved forward
The clocks have moved forward and each day we have a little more light to barbeque by! We dust off our favorite swimsuits and look forward to returning to a more normal life. Finally, the pubs are open, people are out and about playing golf, and returning to their local bowls, cricket or football clubs. And, just like life above the ground, life beneath the soil is now becoming more active as the soil temperatures increase. Unlike life above the ground the world underground will have been largely unaffected by the disruption caused by the pandemic. In fact, the lock down period provided an opportunity to “let nature take its course”, and so the beneficial soil microorganisms, having been left undisturbed, will be reproducing, growing and getting to work degrading organic matter, improving soil structure and releasing plant nutrients.
However, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “do what we can, summer will have its flies”. This period of transition between spring and summer is often when we start to see problems. Remaining vigilant is key to detecting and resolving a problem before it becomes a bigger issue. Following an unusually dry and cold April, the sudden wet weather and increase in temperature at the start of May will see outbreaks of disease and increased insect activity. With the delay in plant growth due to a cold April, grass is likely to be less established and thus more vulnerable to pest attack and environmental stress.
Reduction in management practices during the pandemic may also have seen an increase in thatch. A healthy balance of beneficial bacteria and fungi in the rootzone helps to remove excess organic matter, reducing it to humus and improving soil structure. Bacteria are particularly good at degrading young fresh plant material using enzymes to break the molecular bonds. However, most bacteria reach their limit when encountering more complex carbohydrates such as lignin, this is where fungi play a role. Fungi are the primary decay agents in the soil. The enzymes produced by fungi allow them to degrade the lignin and cellulose found in thatch, chitin found in the exoskeletons of insects and even animal bones! In areas where thatch build up is a problem, regular applications of Compost tea or VermiExtract will replenish soil microorganism populations. If thatch levels are very high then consider using a product that contains large populations of lignin degrading fungi, such as Thatcheater or Greencircle.
As play on the course increases and the weather warms up, plants experience increased environmental stress. Ensure that non-disruptive aeration practices such as micro tining, sarrel rolling or application of Symbio Liquid Aeration are used to encourage microorganism and plant root growth. Continue to support soil biology and improve plant growth by adding biostimulants. Liquid Seaweed and Humic Acid stimulate beneficial soil microorganisms and improve soil structure by increasing friability, aeration and water retention. Further reduce plant stress through adequate nutrition and use appropriate nitrogen levels to encourage root, rather than leaf growth.
In areas where beneficial soil biology is limited, compaction and dry patch can soon impact turf health and growth. Causes of dry patch are still poorly understood, but one cause is thought to be the coating of soil particles with hydrophobic, water repellent chemicals excreted by certain fungi. Specific bacteria are able to produce protease enzymes that can break down these organic hydrophobins and outcompete the fungi that cause dry patch, these bacteria can be found in products like Aquacept. Wetting agents (Incision; Hydroaid Plus) may alleviate water drainage and retention problems, but should be applied early in the season as soon as the first symptoms appear. As an alternative to synthetic wetting agents consider applying Supa Yucca, a plant extract from Yucca shidigera. Supa Yucca is able to break down the waxy coating that prevents water from entering the plant root, it also contains carbohydrates that stimulate soil microbial populations and promote a healthy soil profile.
During this period of transition, sustaining healthy turf is the main way to avoid more serious problems. Key to maintaining a healthy sward is ensuring a healthy soil food web. With rising soil temperatures, this is the ideal time to take steps to encourage a diverse soil microbial population. By encouraging beneficial microorganisms, you can reduce your work load, and allow soil biology to do the work for you. Sound management practices to encourage strong plant growth and better rooting will improve plant tolerance to the stresses of the summer ahead, and have the added benefit of reducing human stress, so that you too can enjoy that long awaited summer barbeque and swim in the sea!
Lowenfels, J & Lewis, W. 2010. Teaming with microbes. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon USA.
Dr Deidre Charleston
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