The Silicon Revolution
Not long ago we had a conversation with a client, a Florida grower who is an industry leader in the tissue culture of red fountain grass. He said something that really grabbed our attention and pointed us towards some intriguing research.
Several years ago, he was able to significantly boost his greenhouse production by wetting the fountain grass cuttings with a silica spray. The silica helped the fragile cuttings retain moisture by reducing the plants’ transpiration rate, and the increased amount of silica in the plugs promoted overall plant growth. As a result, he was able to get more plugs to nurseries for grow-out, and the plugs were larger and healthier than ever.
That was good to hear, but it did not shock us – after all, Growth Products has several products containing soluble silicate (SiO2) for the improved health and growth of ornamentals, turf, and ag crops. But when he told us that the dry weight of red fountain grass is 10% silicon, we’ll admit we were surprised. That’s a huge amount by any measure!
Research Bolsters a Silicon’s Growing Reputation
An ever-increasing number of research studies – many of them only recently published – show that many plants not only have a large percentage of silicon (Si) in their dry weight, but also that absorbable silicon is crucial for plant growth, plant development and plant health (1). (Sand is mostly silicon dioxide (SiO2), as you know, but it’s not a form of silicon that’s readily available for plant uptake.)
Silicon applied as a foliar spray or liquid drench makes plants stronger so that they are better protected from pathogens and insects; it increases chlorophyll production and plant metabolism; it works with a plant’s natural immune system to increase the plant’s ability to tolerate heat, drought, excess salinity, and other environmental stresses; and it helps prevent metal toxicity in areas where soil nutrients are not well balanced.
The mechanisms by which these benefits accrue are not completely understood, but one thing is a clear: silicon uptake changes the texture of leaves and shoots, making them resistant to stress and too tough and prickly for most predatory insects.
Silicate, when applied to perennial ryegrass, may significantly suppress gray leaf spot, according to a study by Rahman, Wallis, and Uddin. (See footnote for complete reference.)
Growth Products has long been ahead of the game when it comes to innovative silica solutions for growers. In 2007, Growth Products introduced Green-Speed Si™ (0-2-5) , a pioneering liquid formula with silica, potassium phosphite, and humic acid to improve the health of golf greens and to create a faster ball roll. The silica strengthens the cells wells of the turf, thus allowing for better mowing and for reduced ball marks on the greens. The silica also protects turf during times of stress and reduces water loss in hot, dry summers and in other situations where moisture loss can be problematic.
For the ornamental market, Sil-Guard 0-2-5 provides 7% percent soluble silica plus other beneficial ingredients. The silica hardens plants’ leaves and strengthens xylem vessels, enhances a plant's resistance to sucking insects, wards off fungal disease, and reduces water loss through transpiration. It’s great for nursery and greenhouse applications, and your customers will appreciate its post-harvest benefits when your flowers and other crops stay fresher and unwilted for longer.
In the ag market, SiTKO SA 0-7-17 is our well-known “TKO Phosphite” with the addition of silica and salicylic acid (SA). Though not easy to say, it’s quickly becoming a favorite for use in the field and in greenhouses.
We hope you’ll call us to discuss how silicates can improve your operation. Silicon has been a major element on earth for billions of years, but my guess is that the ‘Silicon Revolution’ in agriculture is just beginning.
(1) Silicon induced resistance against powdery mildew of roses caused by Podosphaera pannosa, Shetty, R., Jensen, B., Shetty, N. P., Hansen, M., Hansen, C. W., Starkey, K. R. and Jørgensen, H. J. L., Plant Pathology, 61: 120–131. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3059.2011.02493.x (2012); Silicon: Potential to Promote Direct and Indirect Effects on Plant Defense Against Arthropod Pests in Agriculture, Olivia L. Reynolds, Matthew P. Padula, Rensen Zeng, and Geoff M. Gurr., Plant Sci. 2016, Published online 2016 Jun 13;
Silicon-Induced Systemic Defense Responses in Perennial Ryegrass Against Infection by Magnaporthe oryzae, Rahman A, Wallis, CM, Uddin, W., Phytopathology, 2015 Jun 105(6):748-57, doi: 10.1094/PHYTO-12-14-0378-R. Silicon: The Estranged Medium Element, Chen, J., Caldwell, R. D., Robinson, C. A., and Steinkamp, Bulletin 341, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Services, University of Florida.