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Humates: A turf tamer

October 15, 2020 -  By
Healthy turf (Photo: Shuttertop/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Photo: Shuttertop/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

In 2018, Jake Johnson was looking for a way to improve his clients’ yards and increase the nutrient uptake in the grass. The owner of Spray Tech Solutions in Blackfoot, Idaho, says high-pH soils are typical in the Idaho desert, and the soil, in combination with high-pH water, wasn’t getting the results he wanted. His distributor recommended that he apply humates.

“We’ve noticed that humates have helped the plant have more access to the nutrients in the soil and giving better blade color. And, we’re getting longer-lasting results in between treatments as well, and our grass is really thick,” he says.

Johnson adds that humates also have been improving his clients’ cool-season grasses with overall better plant health, deeper root growth and helping the soil not be as hard and compacted.

Spray Tech Solutions has $400,000 in revenue and provides 70 percent lawn care, 20 percent ground sterilants and 10 percent pest control to a 90 percent residential clientele.

Plant protector

Jim Beveridge, owner of Yards Done Right in Westlake, Ohio, a $225,000, 100 percent residential lawn care operation, has been using humates for eight years to combat carbon loss. “We have so much carbon loss on our soils, not just in Ohio, but everywhere else … we’re trying to actually help the soils,” he says. “The humic acid is what’s called a chelator — it actually helps (nutrients) get into the plant better. This is what we discovered after applying it with our fertilizer and our insecticide: If you’re putting fertilizer down with humic, it actually helps the fertilizer be more effective.”

Beveridge uses humic acid, specifically humates with kelp, which he says help build and thicken the cell walls of the plant and help the plant be more disease and insect resistant. “We’re also seeing quicker recovery from drought and stress,” he adds.

A good source

In Beveridge’s case, when sourcing product, his company prices it in thousand-square-foot increments — and humates are relatively inexpensive. “Fertilizer that doesn’t have any amendments could cost you $1 per thousand square feet. The products I’m using with fertilizer and humic acid are around $1.25 per thousand square feet,” he says.

Johnson advises lawn care operators to ask their distributors from where their humic acid is derived. “I think one problem (with humates) is it’s not under the same regulations that a lot of our pesticides and herbicides are under,” he says. “I think just trying to find a good supplier that has good quality humates is a key factor.”

In the field

As far as applying humates, Beveridge mixes humates in all of his six liquid fertilizer applications himself. He combines humic acid with his regular fertilizer mix, which typically includes fertilizer, kelp and sometimes micronutrients like boron, zinc and iron.

Back in Idaho, due to the dry climate, Johnson mixes a 24 percent concentration of humic acid in his liquid fertilizer applications two to three times a year, first in May and then midsummer. He’ll do a late summer application if the yard is still struggling with holding moisture.

Johnson says humates are cost effective on larger yards, and most of his clients’ yards are an acre or larger. He says that to run humic acid on one-acre lawns adds $7 to $14 per application, depending on the rate. “Meanwhile, we’re able to justify the 15 percent increase in pricing due to adding humates,” he says, “and hopefully it gives us an edge over our competitors.

“It’s been a learning experience, testing it to see how it works,” Johnson says. “We’re really happy with our product, and we’re getting great results.”

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the former senior editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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