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Watering plants with soaked forest soil

Watering plants with soaked forest soil


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I am thinking of mixing forest soil with water and water plants with that.

I was hoping that nutrients from soil would get released into the water, so in effect, fertilize the soil.

I am not sure if this works, since I am not aware in what chemicals P, K, Ca, Mg is "stored" in forest soil. If it is oxides that it should dissolve rapidly.

So, overall, is it beneficial to the plant to water them with water in which forest soil was dispersed?

Plant in question are tomatoes, peppers.


You are thinking about something like "compost tea". http://www.homecompostingmadeeasy.com/composttea.html

The problem is that a random piece of forest soil may or may not be rich in nutrients. If that soil has water soluble nutrients in it, wouldn't the rain have already rinsed them out?

If you make tea out of compost, there has been no chance for rain to rinse out nutrients because the decomposed stuff has been in your compost bin.

Last piece: if you are making tea out of forest soil or compost, when you are done you will have a soaked clump of wet soil or compost. What are you going to do with it? Probably throw it on the ground somewhere. It might make more sense and be much less messy to skip the tea step, put the forest soil or compost on the ground next to your plants, and then water them.


Perennials Tolerant of Moist to Wet Soil

Many plants will not grow well in soils that are constantly moist or wet. However, there are a number of plants that are tolerant of and have adapted to perform well under these conditions. Moist generally means soils that are constantly damp and wet refers to soils that are saturated with occasional exposure to standing water (1 day duration).

Hardy Hibiscus - Hibiscus sp.

Bloom: red, white, pink, Bicolor, July-Sept.

Cultivars: 'Fireball', 'Copper King', 'Luna' series, 'Lady Baltimore'.

Notes: Large impressive blooms. Slow to emerge in the spring. Performs best in moist soil in a sun to part shade location.

Queen of the Prairie - Filipendula rubra

Height: 18 inches - 6 feet.

Bloom: Pink, white, June-July.

Cultivars: 'Flore Plano', 'Aurea', 'Kahome'.

Notes: Clusters of frothy blooms. Good for rain gardens. Best in full sun to part shade.

Black Snakeroot - Cimicifuga racemosa

Bloom: White, Pink, Aug-Sept.

Cultivars: 'Pink Spike', 'White Pearl', 'Brunette'.

Notes: Large, dramatic plant. Late season flower display. Best in part to full shade.

Rocket Ligularia - Ligularia dentate

Bloom: Yellow, July- Aug.

Cultivars: 'Othello', 'The Rocket', 'Osiris Café Noir'.

Notes: Dramatic foliage, daisy-like flowers, late season flower display. Best in sun to part shade.

Cardinal Flower - Lobelia cardinalis

Bloom: Red, blue July-Sept.

Cultivars: 'Angel Song', 'Ruby Slippers', 'Arabella's Vision'.

Notes: Good accent plant. Needs moisture for best performance. Best in sun to part shade.

Meadow Rue - Thalictrum aquilegifolium

Bloom: Lavender, July-Aug.

Cultivars: 'Black Stocking', 'Hewitt's Double', 'Evening Star'.

Notes: Distinctive, lacy columbine-like foliage. Best in sun to part shade.

Spiderwort - Tradescantia x andersoniana

Bloom: White, blue, purple, June-July.

Cultivars: 'Snowcap', 'Sweet Kate', 'Concord Grape'.

Notes: Can be cut back to refresh plant appearance in midseason. Can spread.

Royal Fern - Osmunda regalis

Notes: Very large graceful fern. Good along shaded water features. Best in part to full shade.

Finger-leaf Rodger's Flower - Rodgersia aesculifolia

Notes: Very large leaf bold plant. Good along water feature. Best in part shade.

Leopard's Bane - Doronicum orientale

Bloom: Yellow, April-May.

Notes: Early flowering, daisy-like flowers. May go dormant during the summer. Best in sun to part shade.

Siberian Iris - Iris siberica

Cultivars: 'Caesar's Brother' 'Little White'.

Notes: Very wet tolerant, fine grass-like foliage. Best in sun to part shade.


Sprinkler Number, Run Time, and Watering Schedule

Your sprinkler number is .4

You should run your sprinklers for 24 minutes (run time)

By using the suggested run time above, your system should be applying the recommended 0.75” (3/4 inch) of water each time you irrigate to wet your lawn’s root zone (a soil depth of 6 to 10 inches).

As weather and other factors change you will need to adjust the watering frequency, not the run time.

Water needs of grass vary significantly during the seasons, so you should adjust your watering schedule every month. Below is a recommended monthly watering schedule based on historical weather information. This table works well for warm season grasses such as Bermuda and cool season grasses such as winter rye.

Keep this watering schedule and place it inside your irrigation controller box or near your calendar.

Lawn Watering Tips

With sprinklers, water in the early morning – about one to three hours before sunrise. That way more water gets to the roots instead of evaporating due to the sun and wind.


Plant parenting 101: starting with soil

Plant parenthood has boomed since the onset of the pandemic, with many people frequenting local plant stores to find companionship during a time of social isolation or even trying their hand at growing produce . New and novice gardeners find themselves doting and caring for these plants only for them to stagnate or even (gasp) die. How can we prevent untimely death in our plants and encourage growth?

The roots of many plant woes—quite literally—stems from the soil that houses your plant. Luckily, UW Environment houses many soil experts, including plant experts from the UW Botanic Gardens, to help you grow the most luscious, healthy and sustainable garden possible.

Soil health is one of the biggest keys to growing healthy plants. But in order to nurture healthy soils, we first need to understand what soil is. Many people think of soil as an annoyance to sweep away when dirt enters their homes, when in actuality it is a complex mix of once-living, living and nonliving things—all critical components of healthy, fertile soil.

“Minerals are the least mysterious part of soils—these are the nonliving things. Organic matter is the once-living thing, and this is what makes healthy soil dark brown to black in color. Lastly, the living things aren’t visible and are either underground, scurrying away from you or are microbial and therefore too small to see,” says Earth and Space Sciences Professor David Montgomery . “The importance of the microbes are the least recognized, but they consume organic matter and metabolize it, which in turn benefits the plants. These three elements make for a strong and active symbioses between plant and soil.”

Think of your plants and garden as a living ecosystem. For soil to be able to function in this ecosystem, it needs to be healthy and of good quality. Soil health allows for it to self-regulate, while soil quality is its ability to perform its role within the ecosystem. School of Environmental and Forest Sciences Assistant Professor Brittany Johnson stresses, “soil is wildly important in nearly every process within an ecosystem so maintaining both health and quality is essential. Soil governs water supply and quality, provides 15 out of the 18 elements needed for plant growth and much more. A good soil can do all of these things and more.”

Now that we have a better understanding of what soil is and the importance of healthy soils, let’s dig into ways to build and maintain healthy soils.

Before you fill your garden immediately, UW Botanic Gardens ’ Raymond Larson advises patience and suggests observing the garden for a year before making huge changes. Observe how plants react at different times of day and through the seasons: where is the sun at different times of the year? How much light is each area getting? Which one of your neighbors’ plants are thriving and which ones are hanging on for dear life? Larson also suggests “window shopping” when going on walks in the neighborhood, on campus, and at the Arboretum or Center for Urban Horticulture to see which plants are appealing to you and what works best for the region you’re in.

Once you have a list of plants in mind, test the soil. Dig a hole in the ground and fill it with a bucket of water to see how quickly it drains—if the water absorbs within an hour then move on to planting your plant. Larson and Montgomery both advise working with the soil that is already there, no need to till the soil. In fact, Montgomery advises to only minimally disturb the soil—if at all. After you confirm that the soil is well-draining, dig a hole that uses as much native soil as possible and make sure the hole is big enough to leave space for roots to grow. Drainage is key here, we don’t want roots to suffocate or suffer from root rot. More specifically, Johnson recommends maintaining about 50 percent of the volume as pore space for air and water and for relatively high organic matter levels—5 percent or higher. Knowing how well your soil drains will dictate how much water to give your plants, as well as the frequency of watering. The Miller Library at UW Botanic Gardens provides a lot of great online resources, including a gardener answer knowledge base with more information on soil and to see what kind of soil you have.

After your plants are in their permanent homes, mulch the soil around your plants to keep weeds at bay (bonus: mulch also is great at holding in water). Be generous with your mulch: Larson advises at least one inch of mulch to inhibit weed growth.

Plants attacked by common pests can also be protected by natural methods, according to Johnson. Lure in birds and beneficial bugs like lady beetles—also known as lady bugs—to help do your work for you through strategic planting. Lots of plants attract beneficial insects (like mint) or repel insects (like onions), so by planting them alongside more vulnerable plants you can keep harmful pests under control. Alternatively, you can plant something known to attract aphids (like nasturtium) away from your other plants and just treat the one plant. Treatment is a simple mixture of one tablespoon of Castile soap in one quart of water, or add a few drops of essential oils like peppermint for an even more effective mix. This will only affect soft-bodied insects and will not harm any birds, bees or hard-bodied insects like lady beetles.

The last piece of the outdoor garden puzzle is fertilizing your soil. Store-bought chemical fertilizers are labelled with three numbers representing the ratio of nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium (N-P-K). Of course, starting with soil that has plenty of organic matter and lots of space for roots, air and water will provide a great base for your plants. At home, we can make our own fertilizers using lawn clippings, dropped leaves and flowers, veggie scraps and egg shells, while avoiding any fats. Let the compost sit, turn it over often and reap the benefits of homemade compost while cutting down on food waste—a win-win. Montgomery credits his wife Anne Bikle in what he calls the “organic matter crusade” turning unhealthy soil to healthy soil through using compost and mulch to both suppress weeds and feed soil life. In one planting bed with bad weed problems she laid down clean cardboard boxes to control weed growth and added an additional 6 inches of mulch on top of that. Then she dug a hole through the cardboard and mulch to allow for desired plants to get established. An added benefit to this method is that the soil’s organic matter will increase over time, and pull carbon from the sky into the soil.

Many of the same concepts for outdoor plants can be brought indoors for houseplants, but on a much smaller scale. The same compost can be used for outdoor and indoor plants, and the same treatment can be used to treat pests.

When bringing plants home from nurseries, they have likely been in the nursery pots for a long time with roots that are compressed and kinked, and the plants are probably on a watering schedule that is more frequent. It is important to switch out the pot to allow for the roots to spread out and breathe. Drainage is the name of the game for houseplants, so look for soil mixes that are well draining. When in doubt, look for a soil mix that promotes air and water flow—made of bark, moss, compost, sand and vermiculite. Try to avoid wet, heavy bags as they could be harboring mold or harmful material and are denser which won’t allow for water, air and roots to move freely. Cacti and other succulents will require a sandy soil that drains well, while orchids prefer almost no mineral matter at all and will be happy with bark and sphagnum moss, according to Johnson. Whatever plant you grow, a light, fluffy mix with lots of organic matter to act as slow-release fertilizer for your plants will work. When plants shed their old leaves, they are trying to feed their roots and the microbes within soil convert the dead leaves into fuel the plant can take up.

When it comes time to move your plants into a bigger pot, don’t throw away that soil! “Soil doesn’t go bad, it just gets sad,” says Johnson. “As long as you are not observing any evidence of harmful molds or other diseases, there is no reason why you cannot reuse the soil.”

Incorporate some compost into the old soil, mix it around and the soil is ready for life with another plant.

If your first plant (or 5, or 10) don’t make it, don’t take it personally. Through this process of trial and error, we can all eventually learn what each plant likes and dislikes and what it takes to build a healthy foundation for plants to thrive.


The creatures living in the soil are critical to soil health. They affect soil structure and therefore soil erosion and water availability. They can protect crops from pests and diseases. They are central to decomposition and nutrient cycling and therefore affect plant growth and amounts of pollutants in the environment. Finally, the soil is home to a large proportion of the world's genetic diversity.

Soil Biology Primer

The online Soil Biology Primer is an introduction to the living component of soil and how it contributes to agricultural productivity and air and water quality. The Primer includes chapters describing the soil food web and its relationship to soil health and chapters about soil bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms.

The online Primer includes all of the text of the printed original, but not all of the images of the soil organisms. The full story of the soil food web is more easily understood with the help of the illustrations in the printed version.

Printed copies of the Soil Biology Primer may be purchased from the Soil and Water Conservation Society. Go to www.swcs.org

=> Copyright restrictions: Many photographs in the online Soil Biology Primer cannot be used on other We b sites or for other purposes without explicit permission from the copyright owners. P lease contact the Soil and Water Conservation Society at [email protected] for assistance with copyrighted (credited) images tagged throughout the online Primer.

=> The text, graphs, tables, non-credited photos, and graphics from USDA sources may be used freely however, please credit the Soil Biology Primer or this Web site.

Acknowledgements

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, with assistance from the Conservation Technology Information Center, provided leadership for this project. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Society thank many individuals, including the following, for their contributions.


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Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology do the Job? Part Three

In this, the third and final part of Jack Kittredge’s paper, he firstly asks the question: what practices do we need to use to build and keep carbon in our soil? He then discusses, in detail, the soil management practices that will enhance and maintain soil carbon. He then describes the advantages of building organic matter in the soil in addition to of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. To conclude the article, the author states that if we wish to survive, we have no alternative but to restore carbon to the soil and that it can be done through biology. It uses a process that has worked for millions of years. Anyone who manages land can follow these simple principles and restore carbon to the soil while renewing our atmosphere and agricultural soils.

How Can We Restore Soil Carbon?

As soil scientists learn more about the components and microbial processes that form humus, we will have a better understanding of how to assist its creation. But there is evidence suggesting that building soil organic matter is not just a job of adding organic matter to your soil. That will create a thriving microbial community and can make crops flourish. But to build long term carbon, you need to do more.

What we need to know is: what practices do we need to use to build and keep soil carbon in our soil?

Keep Soil Planted. Probably the most important single lesson is that bare soil oxidises carbon, while plants protect it. Green plants form a barrier between air and soil, slowing the process of carbon emission by microbes. Erosion by wind and water is also a major enemy of soil carbon, and growing plants are your best protection against erosion. Finally, plants not only protect soil carbon but also add to it through their power of photosynthesis. Put simply, every square foot of soil that is left exposed, whether it is between rows of crops, because you are tilling up a field, or have just harvested a crop and are leaving the land to fallow, reduces your carbon bank account.

Practices like winter vegetation to cover the soil and under-sowing with legumes and cover crops are important so that after the crop is taken there is a productive cover to increase soil carbon, protect against erosion, feed soil organisms and increase aggregation. (Azeez)

Minimise Tillage. One of the most difficult carbon restoration practices for organic growers to adopt is to reduce tillage. Since organic growers do not use herbicides, tillage of the soil is their major weapon against weeds. But tillage does several detrimental things. First, it stirs up soil and exposes it to the air, oxidising the carbon in the exposed soil. Second, tillage rips up and destroys the hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi, the microbes responsible for much of the symbiosis that is so important for plant vigour and increased exudation of liquid carbon. Their hyphae are the delicate network strands that permeate the soil and carry water and nutrients to plant roots. Studies report increases in fungal biomass at all sites where tillage is reduced. (Six) Third, the complex soil aggregates that have been built up of microbial exudates to protect important chemical transformations such as nitrogen fixing and carbon stabilization will be ruined by tillage. Fourth, tillage tends to destroy the pore spaces in the soil that are vital for holding air and water, which enable microbial vitality. Finally, tillage itself often involves equipment that is powered by fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases in their operation.

Studies report that the organic cropping systems, with the highest levels of carbon restoration, are those practicing no-till and adding plenty of organic matter, such as cow manure, to the soil. (Khorramdel) Critics of tillage report that even one tillage operation after several years can result in loss of most of the carbon built up during that time. (Lal 2007)

There are some studies that report that the soil carbon gains of no-till are not distributed deeply through the soil profile, but rather occur mostly near the surface. This is a problem, they suggest, because the best chance for humus formation and long-term carbon stabilization seems to be deeper in the soil, closer to clay and minerals to which the carbon can bond to resist oxidation. They also argue that the kind of soil organic matter produced under no-till management is only incorporated in the sand/soil fraction of the soil near the surface and is easily oxidised upon eventual disturbance. (Azeez)

Some studies that point to the shallowness of organic matter build-up under no-till, however, also report a slow deepening of soil organic matter after 10 to 15 years under the system, presumably because of both decreased organic matter decomposition and long term soil mixing by larger soil organisms. (Powlson)

There are several systems and devices that are currently being designed for organic growers to reduce tillage. Planters are available that open the soil only enough for the seed or seedling to be deposited and close it right up again afterward. Roller-crimpers have been designed which roll over and crimp a long-stemmed cover crop before flowering, killing it but not disturbing the soil. The market crop is then planted right into the stubble of the cover. Doubtless many other good ideas for enabling organic farmers to fight weeds while not disturbing the soil will be developed. There is certainly a need for more progress on this front.

An alternative method of controlling weeds is the use of mulch to prevent light from reaching them. The simplest mulches to apply are sheets of plastic. Their production, however, usually requires fossil fuels and removal can be difficult and time consuming. Mulching with organic materials such as hay or shredded crop residue adds decomposing organic matter to the soil and builds carbon, but in biologically active soils it requires continual additions of material which can be costly and time-consuming. The primary drawback to mulching, however, is that it does not take carbon from the atmosphere and fix it into the soil via photosynthesis, as living plants do.

Cover Crops. Cover crops are essential in any organic strategy to reduce or eliminate tillage, control weeds and build soil carbon. Ideal candidates for cover crops can be killed (by frost, mowing or crushing) before flowering, so they do not produce seeds and become weeds themselves. Their photosynthesis is an important source of soil carbon while living, and their biomass becomes available after they die. Legumes are important in the cover crop mix, as are deep-rooted plants like annual ryegrass or cereal rye that bring nutrients from deep in the soil and add nitrogen and carbon back to those lower levels.

Besides increasing soil carbon, cover crops reduce nitrogen leaching and discourage wind and water erosion. They improve soil structure, increase water infiltration and reduce evaporation. They also provide higher levels of lignin than most cultivated crops, thus supporting mycorrhizal fungal growth and fungal products such as glomalin that promote soil particle binding. (Rodale, Azeez)

Diversity and Crop Rotation. One of the keys to supporting the microbial life in the soil is to encourage diversity. One principle of nature seems to be that the more biodiversity there is in a system, the healthier and more resilient it is. This is also true when building soil carbon. (Lal 2004) Below ground, biodiversity enables every microbe to fill a niche in the food web – fungi, algae, bacteria, earthworms, termites, ants, nematodes, dung beetles, etc. Above ground, monocultures invite pests and disease where crop diversity keeps infestations from growing and spreading. This applies to both crops and to cover crops, which should contain many plants of different types – broad leaf and grass, legumes and non-legumes, cool and warm weather, wet and dry. No matter what the conditions, some should be able to thrive and photosynthesize. “Cocktail cover crops” are mixes of many varieties of cover crop seed and are now available for purchase to guarantee biodiversity.

Crop rotations also help benefit biodiversity. Rotations with continuous cover crops eliminate the need for fallow periods to refresh the land and increase the activity of soil enzymes. Microbial biomass is larger when legumes are included in the rotation. (Six)

Grazing ruminants are also a common way for organic farms to improve soil organic matter levels. The grazing itself promotes the growth, then sloughing off, of grass roots — which provides carbon to feed hungry soil microbes. Pastures and perennial systems, if properly managed, can show rapid increases in organic matter. Animal manure is one of the most valuable products of the small mixed farm, rich as it is in both carbon and the living microbes that inoculate soil with biological diversity.

Reduced Use of Chemicals. The use of synthetic agricultural chemicals is destructive of soil carbon. Toxins like pesticides are lethal to soil organisms, which play a crucial role in enhancing plant vitality and photosynthesis. Fertilizers have also been shown to deplete soil organic matter. In the Rodale Institute’s Compost Utilization Trials using composted manure with crop rotations for ten years resulted in carbon gains of up to 1.0 ton/acre/year. The use of synthetic fertilizers without rotations, however, resulted in carbon losses of 0.15 ton/acre/year. (LaSalle)

The Morrow Plots at the University of Illinois were the site of one of the longest running controlled farm trials in history. Researchers analysed data from 50 years in which fields on which a total of from 90 to 124 tonnes of carbon residue per acre had been added, but which also used synthetic nitrogen fertilization. Those plots lost almost 5 tonnes of soil organic matter per acre over the trial period. (Khan)

One suggested cause of the negative impact of synthetic fertilizer on soil carbon is the fact that it tends to reduce the size and depth of plant roots since it is concentrated in a shallow layer at the soil surface rather than spread throughout the soil as would be nutrients from legumes, minerals or other natural sources. (Azeez) Another reason might be the impact on the plant of absorbing ammonium ions which causes it to release hydrogen ions, which acidify the soil. (Hepperly) A third possibility is that the availability of free nitrogen causes the plant to exude less liquid carbon to obtain nitrogen from microbes. If you have been using synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, however, and want to stop doing so it may be wise to cut back gradually over three or four years because it will take time for nitrogen-fixing bacteria to build up in your soil. Stopping cold turkey may result in disappointing yields the first year. (Jones SOS )

Pasture. As noted earlier that proper pasturing is a highly effective method of agriculture to restore soil carbon. A recent study of land converted from row cropping to management intensive grazing showed a remarkable carbon accumulation of 3.24 tons/acre/year. This is in the range of deep-rooted African grasses planted to savannas in South America that achieved rates of 2.87 tons of carbon/acre/year. (Machmuller)

Part of the efficiency of pastures at fixing carbon is probably related to the fact that several grasses use the C4 photosynthetic chemical pathway, which evolved separately from the more usual C3 pathway. Particularly adapted to situations of low water, high light and high temperature, C4 photosynthesis is responsible for some 25 to 30 per cent of all carbon fixation on land, despite being used by only 3 per cent of the flowering plants. (Muller)

Some people are concerned about raising large numbers of ruminant animals because in the process of digestion they employ bacteria in their rumen that give off methane, a greenhouse gas that the animal then exhales. In an ecological setting this is no problem as methanotrophic bacteria, which live in a wide variety of habitats and feed solely on methane, will quickly metabolize it. In fact, after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some 220,000 tons of methane bubbled to the surface but were quickly consumed by an exploding population of methanotrophic bacteria. It is only when ruminants are away from biologically active soil or water, such as in feedlots or on soil to which synthetic chemicals have been heavily applied, that ruminant methane emissions can be of concern. (Jones SOS)

Forests. Converting degraded soils to forest use has been proposed to enhance soil carbon. As with other plants, the rate of forest soil carbon restoration depends on climate, soil type, species and nutrient management. The studies we have found on soil carbon in forests generally show modest gains in soil carbon or, in some cases, a net loss. (Lal 2004) There are some, however, that suggest proper management of woody plants can also deliver sizeable soil carbon gains. (Quinkenstein) Also, reforestation can lead in other ways to climate moderation and water cycle restoration.

Biochar. The potential for use of charred residues to enhance soil fertility, while restoring carbon to the soil, has recently gained a lot of attention. Pointing to the terra preta soils of the Amazon, anthropogenic dark earths enriched with char more than 800 years ago, proponents cite the high fertility these soils even today. Other char-containing soils are Mollisols, grassland derived soils extensive in North America, the Ukraine, Russia, Argentina and Uruguay that produce a significant portion of global grain harvests. The char in these soils has been attributed to grassland fires that occurred long ago. The actual chemistry of these char residues has only recently been investigated. Their stability and fertility may be related to protective habitats their internal spaces provide for microbes, or to char’s molecular structure, which creates a large cation exchange capacity (ability to hold ions of minerals needed for plant nutrition). (Mao)

Although biochar has not been extensively studied, researchers suggest that biomass carbon converted to biochar can sequester about 50 per cent of its initial carbon in the soil for long periods, leading to a more stable and long-lasting soil carbon than would be the case from direct land application of uncharred carbon. (Dungait)

Of course, any conversion of carbon to biochar must involve a life cycle assessment concerning the source of the carbon, its land use implications, and the energy of processing and applying it. There are some indications, however, that biochar is a good way to confer additional stability to labile, or easily broken down, organic matter in soil. (Powlson)

Benefits of Restoring Carbon to Soil

The advantages of building organic matter in your soil are not limited to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Water. Increasing soil carbon builds aggregates, which in turn act as sponges to enable soil to hold water, thus providing reserves to plant roots in times when precipitation is low and a ready sink to soak up excess in times when it is high. This capacity to retain water also reduces the risk of erosion and can result in improved crop quality and yield. Some growers believe that companion plants or a cover crop will use up all available water or nutrients. To the contrary, supporting soil microbes with a diversity of plants improves the crop’s nutrient acquisition and water retention. (Jones SOS)

Interestingly, since the 1930s the mean maximum and minimum water levels of the Mississippi River have gotten more extreme – flood levels are higher and low river levels are lower. This happens because the water cannot infiltrate the soil as it should. With good infiltration some water supplies plant production and some flows slowly through the soil to feed springs and streams which bring a long-lasting base flow to river systems. But if groundcover is poor, soil aggregation diminishes, and water cannot infiltrate well. Thus, in floods water runs along the surface and erodes soils, and in droughts there is no supply retained in the soil for either plants or maintaining flow to springs and streams. (Jones SOS)

Fungal Dominance. Scientists are finding that a high ratio of fungi to bacteria in soil is very important to plant production. You can tell if you have such a ratio by the aroma of a handful of soil – if it is mushroomy, not sour. It is the fungi that seek out and supply water and nutrients to plant roots as needed. Unfortunately, most of our agricultural soils are bacterially dominant, rather than fungal dominant. But practices that avoid bare soil, do not till, use cover crops of many species, and encourage high density but short duration grazing with significant rest periods are moving soil toward fungal dominance.

Better Crops. Plants, just like animals, have evolved complex defences against enemies. Their mechanisms are many, and clever. Some avoid detection by adopting visual defences such as mimicking other plants or camouflaging themselves. Some make attack difficult by putting on armour such as thick cell walls, waxy cuticles, or hard bark. Some deter predation by use of thorns, spines, or sticky gum-like exudates. Many synthesize secondary metabolites to prevent attacks chemically (poisons, repellents, irritants, or even volatile organic compounds that attract the enemies of the plant’s predator). (Wink) Plants also engage in symbiotic relations with bacteria that can inhibit local pathogens and thus defend plants against attack.

Such abilities, just as is the case with immune systems in animals, are strongest when the plant is healthy. That health is optimal when the needs of the plant for sunlight, nutrition, water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide are fully met. Of course, that happens best in healthy soil with a high carbon content and a diverse and large population of microbes. Those conditions can lead to crops with nutrient density, resistance to pests and diseases, more antioxidants and longer shelf life. (Gosling, Wink, Reganold)

Plants that are not held back by disease or predation and have their nutrient needs met are going to thrive and give abundant yields. Also, healthy plants biosynthesize more of the volatile molecules and higher metabolites that produce the flavours and aromas of food crops. Restoring carbon to soils is a way to benefit all: farmers with larger yields, gardeners with tastier crops, and consumers with healthier food.

Using biology to restore organic matter to soils and stabilise it is not only beneficial to those who manage land and crops but is also vital to our society. We have taken too much carbon from the soil, burned it, and sent it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Even were we to stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the greenhouse gases already released will continue to raise global temperatures and set free more harmful gases many years into the future.

If we want to survive, we really have no alternative but to restore carbon to the soil. That this can be done through biology, using a method that has worked for millions of years, is exciting. Farmers, gardeners, homeowners, landscapers — anyone who owns or manages land — can follow these simple principles and not only restore carbon to the soil but help rebuild the marvellous system that nature has put in place to renew our atmosphere while providing food, beauty and health for all creation.

AAAS, American Association for the Advancement of Science, (2014) What We Know: The Reality, Risks, and Response to Cli­mate Change.

Albrecht WA, (1938) Loss of Soil Organic Matter and Its Restora­tion, Yearbook of Agriculture, USDA.

Amundson R, Berhe AA, Hopmans JW, Olson C, Sztein AE, Sparks DL, (2015) Soil and human security in the 21 st century, Science, 348, 1261071.

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The Plant Doctor - Watering and Plant Disease

Water, especially water droplets on leaves and stems, plays a major part in plant diseases. Unlike other important factors, such as temperature, you can sometimes control water and moisture. By understanding a few basic principles of how free water (water droplets and films of water on the surface of plant tissues) relates to plant disease and by watering appropriately, you can limit disease in your garden.

Most plant diseases in the state are caused by fungi, but bacterial diseases also occur. Fungi and bacteria that can cause disease are called pathogens. They spread by seed-like structures called spores or by cells.

The fungal spores and bacterial cells are often not released until they have been wet for a certain period. Once released, they may be carried on the wind, in raindrops, or in irrigation water. Fungi and bacteria must have water to spread and infect plants.

Fungal spores are small and delicate (Figure 1). Like plant seeds, they require moisture to begin germination, and once they germinate, they die if they dry. Many fungi require a film of free moisture for at least 9 hours to germinate and penetrate the plant leaf. Some require slightly less time and others more.

Splashing water droplets move pathogen “seeds” short distances. The splash carries the “seeds” from the soil to lower plant leaves, from the lower plant leaves to the upper plant leaves, and from one plant to another. The “seeds” may move longer distances by windblown water droplets.

Figure 1. Diagram of the cross-section of a leaf with fungal spores (top of leaf, left) and bacterial cells (top of leaf, right). The surface of the leaf often has a cuticle, beneath which are living cells (represented by square blocks). Water on top of the leaf lets the spores and bacterial cells penetrate the plant and cause infection. Drying the leaf kills the fragile spores.

Moisture is the critical factor determining active disease and little or no disease. The amount of disease development depends on the number and length of wet periods per unit of time.

You can control many plant diseases by controlling the number of the free moisture periods and how long those periods last. Reduce the number of periods by watering only when needed, and then water deeply.

Reduce the amount of time leaves are wet. Remember that dew is water, too, so your watering schedule has to account for it. Do not extend the period of leaf wetness by watering as the dew is beginning to dry in the morning or before it forms in the evening (Figure 2). Extending the period of leaf wetness will let more pathogen “seeds” germinate.

Observe how long the dew stays on the plant canopies and turf then water when the dew would normally be on the plants. Dew is usually present from about midnight to 8:00 in the morning. If watering in the evening, make sure you stop watering early enough that the watered areas dry before dark. If watering in the morning, stop early enough that the watered areas dry at the same time as or before unwatered areas.

A plant has leaves on the outside and on the inside of its canopy. The inside leaves are sheltered from direct sun and drying winds, so water will stay longer on them. Plants shade the soil, slowing the drying time and raising the humidity levels around the plants. This means diseases are more likely to become established inside the plant canopy than on the outside.

Reduce disease inside plant canopies by proper pruning and landscaping. Make best use of morning winds and sun to dry your landscape. You may hasten drying of particularly valuable areas of turf or plants by brushing a bamboo pole or pulling a garden hose over them to remove the dew drops.

Examine the possibility of placing drip irrigation in your established plantings and soaker hoses in your more temporary ones. If watering by hand, try to water at the base of plants. Drip irrigation and watering at the soil level will help reduce the amount of free moisture on plant canopies. This won’t be possible with your lawn, so water it at the proper time.

How Much to Water

Have you ever noticed that as you dig a hole, the soil becomes moister the deeper you dig? Even when the upper soil layers are quite dry, the deeper layers are moist. So there is more moisture deeper in the soil.

How does water get into the plant? Through the roots. So, putting the two together, you want the plant roots to penetrate as deeply into the soil as possible—to avoid the drying cycles of the upper soil layers.

How can you do this? Encourage the roots to grow deeply. Just as branches twist and turn to get more light, roots grow after a supply of water.

If the area is constantly watered lightly, there will be enough soil moisture just below the surface for the plants. But the soil moisture will dry up quickly and leave plants dessicated in hot weather. Instead, water deeply so the moisture penetrates to about 4 inches. Then, don’t water until it is needed. See Figure 3.

Figure 3. Root system and watering types.

You can check the depth of the soil moisture using an unpainted wooden dowel like you use a toothpick to check if a cake has fully baked. Soil crumbs clinging to the dowel indicate moist soil.

By understanding the association of free moisture to disease development and by changing your watering practice to cut the duration of leaf wetness and number of irrigations, you can lessen disease in your landscape.

Information Sheet 1670 (POD-03-16)

By Dr. Alan Henn, Extension Professor, Plant Pathology.

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Mycorrhizal fungi

Mycorrhizae are a special family of fungi (Mycor) attached to living roots (rhizae) that have the ability to break open chemical bonds in soil minerals and convey them back to the host plant. These beneficial fungi penetrate cortical cells of the roots of vascular plants. In more simple terms they have a symbiotic relationship with a plant. The plant feeds the fungi its sugars (carbohydrates) and the fungi feed and protect the plant. Ninety percent (90%) of all plants need mycorrhizae to grow effectively, but unfortunately urban forest landscape management techniques have tortured and virtually killed most of these (good guy) mycorrhizal fungi.
Just some virtues of Mycorrhizal fungi: