There is a challenge that is evolving in the landscaping, horticulture and agriculture industries. A few years ago, the challenge was educating users about what beneficial microbes do. That challenge still exists (and this blog is part of our commitment to continue educating), but the next step is educating users that all microbial products are not the same.
And they really aren’t. In fact, it’s something like the wild, wild west out there sometimes. Here are a few pointers for evaluating claims and judging product options against each other.
Diversified Mix, Part I
Some products feature only one kind of organism (i.e. just mycorrhizae or just bacteria), and sometimes not very many species within that group. If you are going to introduce soil microbes to your root zone, then use several different types to achieve several different layers of benefit.
You will be diversifying your investment, so to speak, and also there are amazing interactions that take place between the different types of organisms that go beyond just their interaction with the plant. In short, synergy develops among microbes — they literally help each other perform better, and thus help the plant perform better. You can read more about this phenomenon here and here.
Diversified Mix, Part II
Beyond the living, active microbials that will strengthen your plants, you have the opportunity to provide additional nutrients that will naturally and significantly add to plant performance. Some of these nutrients feed the microbes as well. It creates a cycle of health in that microscopic ecosystem beneath your plants!
On a very practical note, always check the expiration date. These are living organisms. And even though they are in a state of hibernation until introduced to plant and soil, they are still susceptible to high heat. If there is no date, move on. You just don’t know if what you’re buying is actually able to energize the soil or not, and it might also be a clue as to the care taken in formulating the product to begin with.
Also check out what the microbes are mixed with. Often you’ll find them paired with manure or other fertilizers. This will add weight and cost, but often not much else in terms of actual plant nutrition and vibrancy. You want the bulk of the work to be done by lively microbes in symbiosis with the plant, not just a token amount added to chicken poop. (It happens.)
The efficiency and cost-effectiveness are two reasons to look deeper: For example, one 8oz. bag of Diehard Transplant equals a whopping 75lbs. of a “comparative” fertilizer + bacteria mix! (See comparison here.)
10-10-10 or 20-20-20?
You might select your fertilizer based on its NPK contents or even on price, but you may want to reconsider how much NPK fertilizer is needed to begin with. That’s because when you leverage the amazing, energizing activity of soil microbes for your plant life, you’re likely to need a lot less chemical than you’ve been buying before!
Hopefully this will help as you evaluate microbial and fertilizer products, whether you’re trying to make sense of your options in the trade or a do-it-yourselfer who wants to make the most intelligent decisions. And when you’re ready to look at microbial products that are thoughtfully formulated, rigorously controlled and smartly packaged, well, there’s a link for that just below!