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Biostimulants

This blog post may be somewhat “high tech”, or, as a minimum, a little odd.  I don’t think it is one of your more common turf topics.  This topic may be out of reach or not feasible for many homeowners.  This topic may be more suited for commercial turf managers, like those who manage athletic fields and golf courses.  But, I think its good to explore these topics for three reasons:  1.  It is good training for a homeowner / turfgrass warrior.  2.  This post may discourage some homeowners / turfgrass warriors from trying something crazy and wasteful with these materials or methods.  3.  And, lastly, I can try to impress you with my extensive knowledge.
 
In this post I will discuss biostumulants.  What are biostimulants?  They are not fertilizers.  They are NON-NUTRITIONAL growth enhancers.  They are basically plant hormones.  Sometimes these are referred to as PGHs (Plant Growth Hormones).  Hormones (in plants, we often refer to them as phytohormones) are chemical messengers regulating normal plant development as well as responses to the environment.  They stimulate root and shoot growth and increase plant tolerance of certain stresses.  Biostimulants can possibly improve photosynthetic efficiency, increase tolerance of drought, heat, UV light, salinity and even diseases.
 
There are five groups of plant hormones.  They are:
 
Auxins
Cytokinis
Gebberellins
Ethylene
Adscisic Acid
 
Each of these hormones has a different influence on plant growth.  Some actually inhibit growth, some enhance growth.  That also depends on what the concentration is of these hormones in the plant.  In many cases, normal levels of hormones enhance growth but higher concentrations, above normal levels, inhibits growth.  So, its fairly safe to say, if you try to make up for a shortage of hormones, like you are trying to offset some environmental or cultural stresses, you may get results.  But, if you use too much, there may be no effect, or, growth may halt.
 
If my understanding of how biostimulants impact plant physiology is correct, it is probably better to use a biostimulant with more than one (of the 5) hormone and apply it prior to the stress taking place.  And, I mean it needs to be applied 4 to 6 weeks prior to the stress.  Repeat applications may be necessary.  Applications would have to continue throughout the entire stress period.  Most biostimulants are formulated as a liquid.  So, dilution in water and conventional spraying are the application methods.
 
Now, here’s the rub.  Although much of what I’m saying here has been in my studies and research, I first learned about this from Drs. Xunzhong Zhang and Richard Schmidt.  They are professors of turfgrass ecology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, VA; also known as VA Tech).  My certification in Nutrient Management was taught by the faculty at VA Tech. 
 
I think the jury is still out regarding biostimulants.  Although the VA Tech professors have written about and discussed many of their successes, there really is not enough empirical evidence, in my opinion.  There is lots of “anecdotal” evidence of success out there on blogs and such.  And that anecdotal evidence also includes failures.  The universities and manufacturers will even mention “mixed” results.  I have not heard of or seen consistent results anywhere.  Anyone advertising with boastful claims about biostimulants, well, should be taken with a grain of salt or ignored entirely.  Industry and academics need to do a little more work before I’d stand up and say, “This stuff is awesome!  Go getcha some!”
 
The good news is that turf managers and university professors all state rather unanimously that biostimulants do not harm turfgrass.  There is no evidence of any harm to any species of turfgrass.  I guess the worst thing that can happen is…..nothing.  Or, as I said, it may inhibit growth.  I guess maybe that’s bad enough.
 
So, if you are really high speed.  You want to try something out of the ordinary.  You can predict the future with regard to upcoming stresses.  You have a big wallet.  You have the right equipment.  And, you got the time – go for it.  Let me know how it works.
 
But, remember what I’ve said about some “soil conditioners”, “dethatchers”, “all natural root stimulators”, “soil additives” and all that sort of stuff, usually sold out the back door of a horse drawn wagon by the same guys who sell snake oil.  Be cautious.  I’ve seen jugs of different biostimulants (they say BIOSTIMULANT in big letters on the label) that had no biostimulants inside of it.  I’m not kidding.  They have MAYBE some micro-nutrients….or some other goofy stuff; fermented soybean, cottonseed meal….other minerals, vitamins, and enzymes....dehydrated water….please. 
 
Reading the label would be another invaluable lesson here.
 
Listen, I’ve been there.  I’m speaking from experience.  I’m the guy several years back that sprayed ground up fish guts on my lawn.  Yep; I fell for it.  Results?  There were no results.  I’m too embarrassed to tell you how much I paid for that stuff.  My neighbors were not happy with the smell but I did make friends with a lot of neighborhood cats and some other fish eating critters out in the woods.
 
Biostimulants are “doable”.  They can provide some assistance.  You just gotta be smart about any “program” for your landscape that is not tried and true.  Being a squared away turfgrass warrior means not falling for fads or gimmicks and not blowing your hard earned money on….some….some….snake oil.

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