The life beneath your feet

After linking with the GCMA as an approved supplier partner, Kerr Hunter, Symbio’s UK and Ireland Business Manager, explains soil biology and its role in golf course management… Established more than 30 years, UK based soil biology specialists Symbio have been working with golf venues across Europe since their inception. With sustainability and climate change key considerations for both course and club management, and the withdrawal of a number of chemical applications in recent years, their philosophy of managing soils and turf as nature intended has never been more relevant. We took a look ‘beneath ground’ to find out how, and why, golf venues should be more focused on soil health. The Symbio philosophy Grasses, trees, shrubs and heathers have been able to grow quite healthily since the beginning of time, even in the face of some extreme weather patterns, but regular readers of ‘turf Twitter’ will observe how extreme weather problems are influencing playing surfaces, from poor growth in a cold spring to soft surfaces due to a wet winter (or even summer!). Looking around the golf course and beyond, have you ever wondered why, quite often, less managed areas cope better with such conditions? It’s all to do with the soils we grow in. Natural soils contain the nutrients, water, air and microbial species required to support a healthy plant above ground. It sustains good grass growth, is free draining when required, but can also hold sufficient water. Plants grown in such rootzones have fewer disease pathogens, such as Fusarium, Take-All Patch and Fairy Ring, and the finer grass species we associate with golf greens, fescues and bent grasses, are supported and dominant. The life beneath your feet What makes soil healthy? The simple answer is when it’s carbon rich, full of biological organisms, and capable of holding nutrients, air and water. The ground beneath our feet should be full of life. From the smallest bacteria to larger organisms like worms, they form a complex soil food web and are a major influence on soil’s ability to be classed as healthy. Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that live in the rhizosphere, the area around the root, and are responsible for digesting plant root exudates and organic matter. They are an essential part of the nitrogen cycle, recycling other nutrients that are made available to the plant or grass. Bacteria are also able to produce other by-products like enzymes, vitamins and hormones, which aid growth. Bacteria can form a protective coating around plant roots against disease pathogens, as well as forming a barrier in the soil to repel diseases.  Fungi are multi-celled organisms that usually grow as long strands or threads called hyphae in the soil. They digest carbon and lignin compounds found in decaying plants, especially thatch. Organic acids produced by fungi lower pH and efficiently solubilise phosphate, calcium and other nutrients locked up in the soil. In conjunction with bacteria, they also help form soil structure whilst making it friable and free-draining.  Mycorrhizal fungi are especially beneficial...
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