Five questions with Dr. Charles Bethke

Ask the Experts - Advertorial | Ask the Experts: Soil Health

Dr. Bethke has worked in growing media and soil amendments since he was 8 years old, starting in his father’s greenhouse. He now consults on growing media issues.

March 21, 2019

1. What misconceptions about soil health would you like to clear up?

Soil health is not simply dependent on the fertilizers added or the nutrients present. It is a combination of the physical, chemical and biological environments. While balanced nutrients are essential, the delivery of the nutrients to the plant roots is what influences strong plant growth. Excessive and unbalanced nutrients or incorrect soil acidity (pH) will greatly reduce the availability of the nutrients. Lack of good water distribution limits [the] transport of nutrients to the roots.

Insufficient aeration limits [the] gas exchange to the roots. Good gas exchange provides oxygen for growth and respiration and the removal of waste gases. Good physical properties with effective aeration and water distribution not only support the plants but also enhance the vigor of microbial life in the soil. The microbes increase the availability and translocation of the nutrients.

2. Why is soil health so important?

Plant growth and health are nearly always limited by problems in the growing medium (soil). Many soils have been physically damaged by excessive tillage, chemically damaged by additives (excessive fertilizers or salts) or biologically damaged by chemicals or exhaustion of organic matter and carbon sources. These need to be addressed for plants to be healthy.

3. What is the difference between soil health and soil quality?

For many horticulturists, soil quality is a based-on perception of what looks, smells and feels good. For others, quality is based on what the plants respond to. Good or exceptional soil quality will be dependent upon good properties and is a result of good soil health. Most often, soil health is reflected in the vibrancy of the beneficial microbial activity. As described above, soils can be damaged. Most often it can be repaired with the appropriate additives and good care.

4. How does PittMoss help improve soil health and quality?

While PittMoss is an exceptional component in potting soils and growing mixes, it also serves to revitalize and invigorate garden soils. PittMoss acts in three ways:

1. It improves the physical properties of aeration and water holding.

2. It helps the chemical properties by balancing pH and holding nutrients.

3. It greatly advances the biological properties by invigorating the beneficial microbial growth and development.

PittMoss supplies readily available carbon for microbial nutrition and that sets it apart from other amendments.

Healthy living soil requires good supplies of carbon as energy sources for the microbial environment, and PittMoss provides that. Additionally, the particle structure works to hold water at plant available rates that are much higher than in other common additives like sphagnum, bark or compost.

5. What are some of the advantages of using PittMoss products in your soil?

In addition to phenomenally improving all three key soil properties. The following are important.

1. It is easy to use.

2. Highly concentrated and effective.

3. Long lasting.

4. Contributes to the long-term vibrancy (legacy) of the soil.

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