By Kaitlyn Ersek on Dec 9, 2014 11:19:00 AM
Which part of the turf are your customers going to grade you on: the green foliage or the roots? Clearly, this is a rhetorical question. At the end of the day, people want the greenest lawn on the block especially when they are paying you to provide results. Unfortunately, very few if any of these customers pay any attention to what their grass looks like below the surface. So why should you pay attention to what is happening literally beneath your feet? At the end of the day, roots are crucial. Your roots below are what makes your grass grow on top. Learn to use your roots as an asset and make it one of your major considerations when designing your programs.
Above is an picture of our 2014 Holganix Roots For You root competition in lawn care. 14.5 inch roots by Chalet Nursery in Chicago, IL.
Feeding the plant
Let’s start with the biology. Turf is a living organism (obvious, right?). It needs to be fed. It needs to breath. It needs a place to store its food. In many ways it is just like us or any other organism. Turf roots grow vertically but will also branch out to take up necessary nutrients.
When we look at roots, the real key is to look for the root hairs. These tiny hairs are where most of the nutrient and water uptake for the plant occur. So, it is not just important to have deep roots but to have fibrous roots as well. These hairs are very small and delicate and synthetic formulations can easily damage them.
Roots serve as the main storage place for nutrients within the plant. Some of these nutrients will be released back into the soil from the root to “bribe” microorganisms into forming a symbiotic partnership with the plant. In other words, the roots feed the microorganisms and in return the microorganisms help the plant with many other things necessary to its health including protecting it from disease and insects in addition to gathering nutrients for the plant. For example, mycorrhizae fungi partner with roots to better get nutrients to the plant. In the below image, mycorrhizae fungi reach outside the depletion zone where limited to no phosphorus exist to gather the nutrient for the plant. In return, the plant secretes sugars, feeding the mycorrhizae fungi.
Most essential nutrients are taken up by the roots to feed the plant. These nutrients include those commonly found in fertilizers. For example, Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorous and Iron are essential for plant health and are taken up by the roots.
The roots of turfgrass, when grown densely and appropriately, can provide one of the best solutions to erosion control. The roots are able to latch on to the top soil and secure it in place. For example, look at the numerous mudslides occurring in California. These mudslides didn’t have any vegetation so when the rain came there was nothing to keep it from displacing the soil.
While the living biology within or added to the soil is one of the key ways to improve the quality of soil, roots also play a role. Roots secrete sugars, attracting microorganisms, which in turn help increase soil quality. The turf roots and microorganisms that roots help support, will begin aging the soil and over time will start to improve the soil, making it more beneficial for plant growth.
Why is age so crucial? Soils have age to them; the older the soils, generally the better they are for nurturing plant growth. For example, when contractors are building houses they often take the sub-surface soil dug for the basement and use it for the front yard. This sub-surface soil does not provide optimal growing conditions. Turf roots and microorganisms help to age the soil, ultimately providing better soil for plant growth. Even “topsoil” once disturbed, will take time to rebalance the ecosystem, making the age of topsoil important.
What if instead of simply adding more nitrogen (We are all guilty of this one!) we consider what needs to be done to make the soil and turf healthier. This way it will be better able to feed itself and fight its own battles against disease. What if we also start to use the soil as an ally and not just a pile of dirt that we have to grow something green on?
Want to learn more? This information has been taken from our free eBook: Turf Roots Technical Report. Click the button below to download a copy for yourself!