January 10, 2018

Biochar for Soil and Plant Health

By Art Morris for New Urban Forestry in Athens, Georgia.

If you spend any time listening to or watching gardening shows you've probably heard of biochar, but you may still be wondering what, exactly, it is. Biochar is a permanent form of organic matter, kind of like compost that never degrades in the soil. This "permanent compost" provides a lot of benefits for soil and plants alike. It helps retain soil moisture and nutrients, provides habitat for beneficial soil microbes and improves soil texture by reducing compaction (which is especially nice in Georgia red clay soils).

So, what is it?

A few decades ago researchers excavating on the amazon basin discovered a layer of rich, dark, healthy soil buried in an otherwise poor soil profile. They called it terra preta and discovered that it was a man-made soil dating back 2500 years or more. Ancient civilizations had enriched an otherwise infertile soil by smoldering green waste (rather than burning it or allowing it to decay). The modern-day adaptation of this ancient technology uses specialized equipment to turn green waste (such as beetle-killed pine trees) into useable biochar through a process called pyrolysis.


Despite its countless benefits, use of biochar has not been widely adopted in residential landscapes (yet). This is primarily due to the scarcity of suppliers and the challenges of producing it. New Urban Forestry is excited to be able to bring biochar products to the Athens and Oconee markets.

The biggest challenge we face in biochar application is getting the material into the soil. Traditionally, biochar is tilled in as a soil amendment, but running a tiller near trees is a pretty bad idea due to the inevitable root damage we'd cause. Instead, we mix powdered biochar into our soil care blend and inject it directly into the soil profile.

New Urban Forestry is committed to providing environmentally friendly plant and soil health treatments, and using soil nutrient analysis, quality slow-release nutrients and products like biochar in our soil care programs is a responsible way to improve tree health without over-applying broad-spectrum fertilizers.

If you're not familiar with New Urban Forestry's soil care programs, give us a call!

John-Ashley and Taylor preparing to ship off soil samples for nutrient analysis. 
John-Ashley and Taylor preparing to ship off soil samples for nutrient analysis.