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When drier conditions make survival harder for plants, causing disease and fertility issues, biostimulants can be a great tool to use for a healthy lawn and landscape. Applied to plants, seeds or soil, biostimulants are used to help plants soak up nutrients and meet their fullest potential. The process works because the additives facilitate the breakdown of different nutrients in the soil for plants.

LCOs often use biostimulants to protect plants against disease and drought, and to limit the need for traditional fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, which makes them popular in organic programs. “Biostimulants reduce fertilizer runoff, which is especially good for sites near watersheds,” says David Beaudreau, co-chair of the U.S. Biostimulant Coalition. “You’ll see better quantity or quality, better flower color.”

The use of biostimulants has risen steadily since the first trials in the early 1990s. Today, biostimulants are a modestly sized but rapidly growing market. The purchase of biologicals is up 2 percent this year over last, according to Lawn & Landscape expenditure research.

As research shows the efficacy of biostimulants, more products are coming to the market. The organic biostimulants reported to work well come from plant hormones, vitamins, enzymes, humic acid, sugar, sea kelp and fish emulsion.

“The basic concept is that biostimulants improve the nutrient use efficiency of the plant in question,” Beaudreau says. “When used, plants absorb more of the nutrients from the soil.”

Another perk of using biostimulants is that they lessen dependence on traditional fertilizers, thereby lowering input costs and helping the environment. “When I use biostimulants, I’ll save about two pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of ground,” says Edward Fleming, agronomist for Lawns Unlimited. Fleming says the use of biostimulants is also good for the environment because it cuts back on the amount of fertilizer that could run off to nearby bodies of water.

If your company is looking to add to its repertoire, including a biostimulant service could be a smart option. Biostimulants are organic chemicals or microorganisms you can apply to help plants cope with various stressors like drought, too much sun or excessive heat. The key is to apply biostimulants before the stress occurs. These biostimulants serve as elicitors by activating the plant’s natural chemical defenses. Depending on the compound, various pathways are activated which initiate defense-related enzymes within the plant, according to LebanonTurf.

Lawns Unlimited in Delaware runs a biostimulant service April through August. Fleming recommends it not just for the benefits in root health, resilience and nutrient absorption, but also for the good it does for the environment.

“The basic concept is that biostimulants improve the nutrient use efficiency of the plant in question.” David Beaudreau, U.S. Biostimulant Coalition

“Biostimulants are an organic material that airifies that soil and makes nutrients more accessible,” Fleming says. “It enables broad leaf control, decreases the nitrates put on the lawn which reduces flesh growth and decreases the growth of plant material.”

Beaudreau says biostimulants are a good option for those in drought-stricken areas. “A lot of biostimulant companies have found that when there’s a drought, their plants perform better than control groups,” he says.

Given their efficiency, plant potency and economic future, Fleming strongly advises landscape companies to add a biostimulant service if they can.

A good foundation.

Knowing what’s under the grass is the key to figuring out how much fertilizer to apply and when to do it. While you can check the pH of soil without conducting a full test, there’s no other way to find out how much phosphorus or potassium are in the soil.

Typically, when doing soil testing, Jeff Carroll, owner of Jefferson Sustainable Landscape Management in Woodinville, Washington, finds that the soil has too much nitrogen as a result of over fertilizing. Nitrogen will give you a nice, green lawn, but not long-term plant health, so it’s important to look at pH and other nutrients. And it’s not just the existing nutrients that dictate the schedule. Sandy soil leaches fertilizer faster than clay.

Tyron Jones, president of Deans Pest Control in Fruitland Park, Florida, conducts numerous soil samples when enrolling new clients in a program. “We have done hundreds of soil samples over the years, and if I was starting a brand-new company, I’d run out and do 50 to 100 soil samples to get a good idea of what you’re working with on your lawns,” he says.