A spoonful of SUGAR?

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sugar.jpgA spoonful of SUGAR?

One of the longest message board threads ever seen on the Pitchcare website, on the subject of grass colour, resulted in a lengthy discussion about the use of sugars to 'jump start' the plant.

Here we present two views on the subject, the first by the original 'sugar postee' Dr. Ian MacMillan

You know, it's a funny old world. I refer to a simple thing that can make a complex difference. And what could be simpler than a bowl of ordinary table sugar?
Let me explain. A few weeks ago, in response to a thread posted on the Pitchcare message board about grass colour, my response was to expound to the virtues of this simple bowl of table sugar? No, not to enhance the compatibility of your rice crispies but, indeed, to initiate various responses within the grass plant and introduce a profound effect on its metabolism.

But let's go back to that simple bowl of sugar. Sugars are basic building blocks for plant function. Glucose and fructose are the subtrates for most other carbohydrate fractions in the plant; stick one of each together and you have sucrose - common table sugar or Saccharide!

When a molecule is formed from different sugars it becomes polysaccharide and some of these are starches, which is basically a bunch of glucose stuck together, forming a longer chain resulting in cellulose. But enough of this! I'm a practitioner of turf and my mission in writing this is merely to give you a wee tip which I learned in the early sixties. So, here goes and, as we progress, please forgive momentary visits to biology.

Coming out of the winter the plant is normally in a bit of a pickle. Let's face it, frozen for months on end, many pairs of feet crushing frozen tissue. No sun, therefore no photosynthesis, the process that converts solar energy to chemical energy which then drives the synthesis of sugars from carbon dioxide and water.

Sugars provide a multiple role in all aspects of plant life including the main respiratory subtrates for the generation of energy and the metabolic intermediates. Sugar is further required for the functioning of protein and lipids. As a consequence of coming out of the winter with a depletion of the sugars and their derivatives, it initiates various responses within your grass and has a profound effect on the metabolism and the energy required to get your first feed in transit around the plant.

If this article was based on an academic understanding, or related to the cognitive response of the metabolism of our grass plant, then I would explain to you that sugars are carbohydrates, meaning that they contain the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and that there is twice as much hydrogen as there is oxygen, and that simple sugars are called mono sugars or mono saccharides, and the type I will advise you to try are hexose sugars having six atoms of carbons. However, as my article is based on good sound practical advice, I won't!


This can never be an 'exact science' and could be determined and influenced by many outside agencies. Location is one of the main non chemical catalysts that can determine so much to the morphological and physiological response behaviour of our grass plant. Incorporate this with soil and air temperatures and we have a make or break response interval to anything that we may do as practitioners.

And, as turf practitioners, we can only expect plant aptitude to prognosis with any prescribed method when temperatures are favourable to the intended purpose. Don't expect results from anything, including sugars, until the soil and air temperatures will support and encourage the plant to react. Then, of course, there is soil type, some being colder than others, and grass type, some being more responsive than others. The list of reasons goes on and on and, therefore, calls for an understanding of environmental and botanical factors before we should even consider interrupting our wee friend, the grass plant.

Here's the Deal.

Horses for courses - no two courses are the same, so it goes to reason that no two practices are the same! And this is where we experiment, as we can only find the correct dosage and sugar type by experimenting, auditing and shouting "eureka" when you find yours. Don't be impatient. I have conducted experiments and changed recipes many times until I found what was right for my grass.

Spring Application

I sugar up before I even consider an application of their plant goodies. This, in turn, will allow the elements, applied and taken into the plant, a much quicker response as the plant has restored the spring deficit of carbohydrates.

I have discovered that I maximise this by using molasses, very cheap, very soluble and readily available from farm outlets. Dosage, as discussed above, may vary from site to site, but I have found between six and eight litres per hectare works for me. Mix with four hundred litres of water. I also add low foam washing up liquid in order that the molasses may slide down the leaf into the soil, as the molecules are too big to enter the leaf!

If colour, or lack of it, is an issue try adding Epsom salts to your solution at around 10kg to the tank.
Good luck to all.

Dr Ian MacMillan, Education and Law Officer of the IGA, can be contacted on 01337 857294, or mail ian@macmillanlegal.co.uk

Tate & Lyle
Will not make your grass smile

By Clive Liddiard MScUntitled-1.jpg

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is what type of sugar I should apply to my turf areas? Well, that is a million dollar question as there are many factors that have to be taken into account i.e. condition, type, and make up of the soil. What type of grass plant are you growing and, yes I know, a green one, but is it fescue, bent, smooth stalk or rye?

As a rule of thumb there are some steps you could take to help improve plant health with direct applications of sugars and molasses, though I have to state that for any sugar application to work you must have a good source of air in the soil. So, unless you have well aerated ground to start with, direct application of sugar will not work.

A general background of plant sugars is that two mono sacharides are the primary types. These are glucose and fructose. They are both created by the plant and are then combined to create sucrose.

This is where the first error can be made with using normal granulated sugar as this is made from sucrose. Sadly, the plant cannot use a granular form of sugar and, upon its dilution or the granule dissolving, this form of sugar is too high to be of any use. After many years of research we found that the concentration level was just too high, though we did discover that a very minimal amount of granular sugar application direct to the soil did increase the bacterial activity and improve the michoriza to the point where a good benefit to soil life was seen.

When I say minimal you are looking at an application of two to three grammes a square metre.

If you do intend to use a granulated sugar I would strongly recommend an unrefined type, as the refining process has acids used with it.
You can source fructose and glucose in dry powder and liquid form, but be careful as fructose from fruit has a different make up than that from, say, sugar cane. I have always used a direct derived source of both, and these are obtained from sugar cane. I have always avoided those from sugar beet as we never got the same results.

The main point to always remember is that the make up of the sugars in the plant is one of fructose to one of glucose. To make sucrose the plant can also identify poor periods of growth within its cycle, and this can allow for the plant to store a fructan. One or two is fine, but a plant creating a lot of fructans could put a lot of feed into reserve and not into the growth cycle, consequently giving an uneven plant growth structure. So, exact feeding when required is essential.

Application and timing

Applications can be made in various ways, from a direct powder application to a liquid formula of straight sugars. You could try a blend with seaweed and even use some molasses based products to help the biological world below the ground.

Timing is the most important factor. From my research sugars only need be applied when the plant has an inability to produce enough of its own, so this would apply to shaded areas or those areas where the micro climate is not favourable to strong growth. But, it also applies to seasonal times of the year. For example, when temperatures drop sugars can help the plant sustain growth. Also, after heavy rain periods when the soil can become exhausted and out of balance, or as we change from winter to spring conditions it can be used to give the plant a boost. Applying sugars in optimum growing conditions has little, if any, affect and is a waste of money.

In sport, applications can be made on cricket wickets being brought out of play - it is not nice to be given such a shock and be cut away after all those months of love and attention. Like us, taking sweet tea to cope with a shock, the grass plant will also enjoy that same sugary drink, so to speak.
I hope this article helps make things a little clearer. Sadly, I cannot give you an absolute plan to apply sugars, but I can give you one last tip to remember. If a person eats a large amount of sugar the body will crave more and more, and will put all it can to fat, making this person more lethargic rather than more energetic. A little sugar, when down or feeling a bit tired, will give a boost and put a person back on track. So, it is a case of a little when needed, and you should have a strong, healthy plant, not a tubby, slow growing rosette.

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