Does my Kingston, Ontario lawn need Soil Conditioners?
Updated: Apr 20
What is considered a soil conditioner?
Soil conditioners are a wide range of products that emphasize the improvement of soil and may or may not contain plant fertilizer nutrients. Soil conditioners that do not contain traditional plant nutrients are not required to be registered under the fertilizer act and are largely an unregulated market segment.
Some examples include:
Sea minerals "70+ minerals"
What works for lawns?
Lawns are hungry for fertilizer because of their rapid vegetative growth but grasses also need healthy soil and won't grow well in poorly drained, compacted, or sandy soils.
Residential soils have plenty of micro-nutrients and you should avoid purchasing products boasting dozens of different minerals, they will not improve your soil unless they are deficient in one of the 14 plant essential minerals. Although you will not benefit from non-essential minerals (with rare exceptions) rock dusts may amend heavy clay or sandy soils if the particle size is around 50 microns in size, though this may only help if mixed directly into the soil at quantities that may not warrant the cost.
Look out for "remineralizers" which are just not necessary at all.
Stimulating the biology in your soil is certainly going to benefit your lawn but adding microbes, compost teas or kelp extracts isn't really going to make an impact. Compost contains more active biology than these products by orders of magnitude and contains plenty of aged organic matter as well.
Look out for "liquid aerators" these products usually contain a blend of microbes and humic substances that falsely promise to loosen your soil.
Simple sugars are loved by microbes, molasses is a popular choice for its ease of availability and affordability. Too good to be true? Often only a tablespoon of molasses per 1000 square feet of lawn is recommended and this is just too low a dose to make a meaningful impact. A better alternative is vinasse which is sometimes available in granular formats that can be applied at a much more impactful quantity and will be broken down more slowly.
Look out for "liquid dethatching" products which are often just molasses-based products falsely promising to bust thatch problems in your lawn.
Wetting agents & acids
Wetting agents are quite effective at improving water penetration and distribution in the soil. Some acids can be used to neutralize bicarbonate buildup in your soil that comes from irrigating with hard water. Both these products are effective but are only seen on golf courses where their cost can be justified.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, you aren't going to completely change your lawn with a few tablespoons of fancy soil conditioners. Condition your soil first by following proper mowing and watering practices. Soil conditioners can give you an edge but only a few are really proven effective.
If you'd like to improve your soil in 2022, consider Renew-a-lawn, you can add compost & conditioner to your service that uses vinasse and aged compost to truly benefit your lawn, starting at the soil.