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If you're reading this in a public place, you might get some funny looks if anyone can see your screen. The term Bio-Stimulant sounds a bit dodgy. Something you might sign up for if you fancy your chances in the Tour de France maybe?

The truth is far from that of course and the term is descriptive of a range of naturally occurring substances that are generally good for health, especially plant and soil health.

The greenkeeping world is slowly awakening from a dark period when we thought we should try to control and kill everything we didn't like the look of. In its place many greenkeepers are revelling in the benefits of working with naturally healthy soil which naturally promotes fine perennial (fescue/bent) grass growth. 

Detailed article on the transition of greens from annual meadow grass to bent/fescue.

An essential component of the transformation from Circle of Decline to rude health for greens is the regular use of microbe boosting Biostimulants. They enhance plant and microbial growth and development and improve the efficiency of plant nutrients, by improving uptake or reducing leaching or both.

What are BioStimulants?

Some biostimulants are soil amendments, improving soil structure and its ability to enhance plant and microbial growth, while others improve the plants' ability to resist disease.

In practice, many of the commonly used Bio Stimulants help with all of these functions. 

So far so good, but it won't have escaped you that, as greenkeepers, we are confronted with a growing mass of biostimulant products, all claiming to promote healthy grass and solve a myriad of problems. Many of these products contain mixes of different raw materials, and their claimed efficacy is described in ever more confusing terms for what are quite simple materials.

Today then, I want to take a look at the main biostimulants available to us for bowling green application and explain their use.

What do BioStimulants do?

Plants and microbes both need carbon, nitrate, phosphate, carbohydrate and sugars; some biostimulants provide all or some of these elements, whilst others provide a substrate on which plant and soil microbes survive to make these elements available to enhance the growth of the plant.

There are two main reasons for using biostimulants to improve the growth and health in bowling green turf.


bio stimulants on bowls central

First of these is simply to feed the soil microbiology because the organic substrate (humus) needed by soil microbes has been designed out of the rootzone specification. Our modern love for very sandy rootzones, means that many greens have too little humus and too much thatch.

The power of the microbes to retain nutrient, convert leaking root juices to plant food, degrade thatch, prevent disease and maintain soil friability is far greater than the action of the biostimulant on the plant itself.

Most biostimulants do not differentiate between beneficial and pathogenic microbes, so care is needed in application not to apply them directly to active pathogens. Secondly, many biostimulants have a direct effect on the health of the plant. In perfect growing conditions, biostimulants will do little for plant health, but sports turf, especially bowls and golf greens and modern pitches are some of the most artificial environments created for plant growth and the grass plant benefits from the addition of the stimulants that it cannot produce in sufficient quantities itself.

Humus, Humic and Fulvic Acid Soil Enhances the Building Blocks of Soil.

Modern green rootzones are designed with minimal organic matter and what there is, is often peat which supports very low levels of microbial life. Additionally, greens are often been topdressed, which ensures they seldom have the chance to mature and become rich in humus and humic compounds. This makes it beneficial to add them in the form of humates, humic and fulvic acid.

Humus is generated by degrading thatch. It contains humic substances, which are naturally occurring biostimulants such as fulvic acid, humic acid and humin. These natural biostimulants perform many functions in the green eco-system.

Physically, humic compounds improve soil structure, creating space to retain oxygen, store water and improve drainage and promote the formation of soil aggregates which is important in the journey towards low disturbance greenkeeping, the eventual aim of the Performance Greens Program.

Chemically, humic compounds are negatively charged and increase cation exchange capacity, i.e. the soil’s ability to chemically retain nutrients and reduce leaching which occurs when soil particles are coated in positively charged nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and micro nutrients.

Humic acids reduce soil pH by reacting with the calcium carbonate in the soil to produce carbon dioxide and, when excessive amounts of inorganic fertilisers have been applied, humic compounds can reduce sodium and other mineral salts in the soil by exchanging them for other cations, e.g. calcium.

Effects on the Grass Plant


Humates, humic and fulvic acids also have many beneficial effects on the grass plant, improving cell division and elongation and also chlorophyll content.

Fulvic acid, when extracted by itself, has a smaller molecular weight, so it can penetrate leaves, roots and stems, which makes it an excellent chelating agent when mixed with other biostimulants, liquid fertilisers or pesticides, helping them to enter the plant when applied as a foliar spray.

This makes fulvic acid an excellent low light, cool season biostimulant by helping get nutrient, carbohydrate and protein into the plant. In temperate climates, if applying the individual materials, humates and humic acids usually give the best results when applied during the warmer months, whilst fulvic acid is best applied to encourage growth in the cooler, low light seasons. It can be used as a chelating agent year round

Why Molasses?

Molasses is an extract of sugar cane and is available in many forms, but when used on turf grass it is usually best to use the complex carbohydrates produced after the simple sugars and salts have been extracted in the production process.

Its primary function as a biostimulant is a food source providing carbon, sugars and carbohydrates for soil microbes, particularly bacteria.

Most molasses based products also contain a quantity of trace elements which are also used by soil microbes that require trace minerals to act as catalysts to produce enzymes that make nutrient available to plants.

Molasses also works as a chelating agent to convert the soil’s tied-up nutrients into a form that is easily available to plants. Chelated minerals can be absorbed directly into the plant, so it is a good idea to add a complex carbohydrate and fulvic acid to liquid inorganic fertilisers to improve fertiliser uptake and efficiency and help the nutrient remain available and stable in the soil.

Molasses and concentrated molasses solubles give best results when applied in spring to get needed carbohydrate into the plant and as a plant nutrient and soil microbe biostimulant in summer.

Why Seaweed?

Seaweed production and use is a complex subject, with many different types of source material with four common extraction processes generating products that have different properties and uses, but in many respects all seaweed products have similar responses.

Seaweed extracts act as biostimulants on the microbes in the soil because of the carbon and carbohydrate content and diversity of nutrients that act as a microbial food source.

Generally, potassium hydroxide extracted seaweed, which has a higher organic content than cold pressed solutions, is best for soil microbe growth and was shown to be a better biostimulant for bacterial and fungal growth than fish hydrolysate or complex sugars.

So, while seaweed itself does not make all the improvements attributed to it, the increase in beneficial soil biology does. Cold pressed seaweeds with a smaller molecular structure are more readily absorbed by the plant and work well on the plant, mainly due to the presence of plant hormones like auxins, cytokinins and gibberellins.

Auxins are responsible for cell elongation and growth of plant tissues, cell division, plant movements and plant ageing.

Cytokinins help transport nutrients, regulate cell division and inhibit ageing of plant tissues, whilst gibberellins regulate growth and stem elongation, germination, dormancy, seed production and germination.

Why Fish Hydrolysate?

Fish hydrolysate is basically the parts of the fish not used for human consumption, with the bones degraded by enzymes. Of course, for turf use we don't want materials that smell of fish, hence Fish Hydrolysate.

Whilst fish hydrolysate contains NPK when used in small quantities as a biostimulant, the nutrient content is negligible. It is as a microbial feed that it comes into its own and, when broken down, its high protein content is good for increasing protein in the plant in times of stress.

Fish Hydrolysate is another good cool season growth promoter that can be used through out the growing season.

The Importance of Oxygen

The above compounds are the base raw materials for most biostimulants, and most of the materials available to turf managers contain one or more of these products.

However, it is important to remember that all beneficial soil microbe and plant growth promotion takes place in aerobic conditions, which means that oxygen is the best biostimulant.

Frequent aeration with microtines or sarrell rollers is essential for any biostimulant to work on a frequently compacted rootzone. However, there are now liquid products available that can be sprayed over the surface to release oxygen atoms to support even microbial metabolism.

Bio Stimulant Materials
Performance Greens 

Bio Stimulant use is a very well researched topic and there is a wealth of information available for further study.

Bio Stimulants can really improve conditions and reduce costs by improving nutrient and oxygen availability and uptake, disease resistance, soil friability and water retention.

Bio Stimulants have always been at the heart of the Performance Greens Program and now you can access the best materials on Bowls Central to help you reap the rewards of regular Bio Stimulant application.

Ordering Bio Stimulants from Bowls Central

You can order all of the materials mentioned here in the Bowls Central Shop. Setting up your account is as easy as typing in your name and address. Once your account is set up, you can order materials online anytime.

There's no need for credit cards, you simply complete and submit your order and you'll be invoiced later.

If you don't fancy all of that, you can just drop me a line here with your requirements and I'll take care of everything for you.


Of course, as always if you have any questions at all about Bio Stimulants, applying the Performance Greens Program or any other aspect of green maintenance, please feel free to drop me a line any time.

Until next time!

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