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Products to Clear Up Built Up Salts?

by Dr. Satish Prabhu, Master Rosarian, Carolina District Rose Society

This is a 2020 AOM winner

What ‘magic stuff’ does top exhibitor Dr. Satish Prahbu use to win at the Shows?


As I keep looking at the various emails that come before me promoting various products, all of which claim to help me produce the very best roses (winning roses?) one can produce, one thought comes to my mind. "They" have figured out that merely by saying, "grow better roses with this" they can sell pretty much anything to exhibitors. Often free samples are sent to selected exhibitors, who use them in their gardens, without really dividing the garden into two parts to use it on one part and not anything on the other half which can be monitored ‎as control. No doubt, their roses perform very well, just as they have over the last several years, perhaps not as a result of using this new stuff, but as a collective effect of using all the usual things and practicing sound basic horticultural principles. But when the companies call back to inquire how their roses did, they say, “Fantastic!" Can we use your name? Say that you used our product and had great success with it? “Of course!” says the exhibitor and we will read all about how the great, well-known exhibitor used it and succeeded in growing good roses. One extreme example of this still exists in an ad which is currently running and claims "Grows the best roses, including the number one rose in the country". That one caught my attention, and I called the company and asked them for an explanation. They said, "Oh! A member of ARS called and said he won the queen of the show. We asked him what that meant, and he said it was the number one rose in the country at a national competition on that day!"

He clearly did not bother to tell them what else he had also used, along with fish emulsion. If I were to guess, knowing what most of us (the exhibitors) typically apply by way of fertilizers and stimulants, he also used a granular N-P-K fertilizer or a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote, Miracle Grow or some other similar soluble fertilizer as a booster, some magic organic mix, sea kelp, and possibly some biological soil treatments and a few other things I may or may not even have heard of. (Messenger, mag sulf, Sequestrene, Gypsum, humic acid and the list goes on) I will plead guilty to having fallen a victim to this bad practice myself. Merely hearing that such and such an exhibitor who won a big challenge class at the last national convention used a "new product" which he swears by has propelled me to call the company and place an order, without even pausing for five seconds to think about it! ABOVE: What winning products do they use in the very healthy Prahbu rose garden?


What is this "stuff"? What does it do? How does it do that? What is the active substance in the formula? Is it providing something that is not in my soil or fertilizing program already? A certain product may have over 60 different trace elements; but is there any evidence that rose plants either need them or benefit from them? Why pay for 60 different elements if they can't be taken up and used by plants for their benefit? It is well known that there are 16 or 17 elements which are needed for the rose plants (most plants) to grow normally and grow well. Often, just applying quality compost in reasonable amounts and some 10-10-10 will more or less cover all those basics needs. John Mattia, a well known, successful national exhibitor followed this formula throughout his successful run at the nationals and swears by it! A soil test will invariably identify any deficiencies, which can be easily corrected by following specific recommendations. (what, how much, how, how often and when). Simply stated, fertilizing is adding nutrients which are lacking or not found in adequate amounts in your soil. One only needs to add enough amounts of a given element (or fertilizer) found to be lacking, to make the soil level "medium" and the plants will take up what they need in the amounts they need to grow well. Yes, adding certain small amounts of those things (N-P-K, Mg, Ca, Mn, Iron, Molybdenum, Boron) every season is necessary to maintain all those elements in medium range throughout the growing season, because all levels gradually tend to drop as the season advances, some more and faster than others. For example, Nitrogen is most labile in the soil and gets taken up, leeches off or escapes into the atmosphere by de-nitrification. Therefore, nitrogen needs to be replenished often and in small amounts. (About 2-3 pounds of actual nitrogen per one thousand square feet of bed space per month in divided doses, from late March to early September in our area). Adding more of a good thing does not necessarily make my roses grow better. On the contrary, it can cause imbalances which may promote vegetative growth at the expense of producing flowers, for example, by adding too much nitrogen, not to mention wasting time, money, and energy. Somehow we seem to have come to believe that "competitive growing" means doing more of everything, including planting a larger garden with more rose plants and competitive fertilizing means applying more fertilizers in larger amounts and more number of different types of fertilizers than anybody else! The vendors know it so well, that when they send me a brochure promoting something they are selling, there is a usually a foot not which says, "Great stuff! Mr. Exhibitor who won the Nicholson last year used this!" And yes, I do not want to be left behind. I will certainly buy that! Thank you for letting me know. But... Mr. Vendor, wait a minute, please! What is the active ingredient in this magic bottle? How does this work? What does it add that I don't already have in my soil? The answer, of course, is, "It works like magic! Just ask Mr. Exhibitor!" ABOVE: Did he use a flushing agent to win at the Show?


I believe that before I recommend using something, anything, I should be able to understand and explain, and answer questions I raised earlier. Otherwise, I should refrain from recommending it. Because I think many newer and younger exhibitors might use it just because I have won a hundred national challenge class trophies and therefore, it must be good, and it must work! Forget the fact that many of these 100 trophies were won over a period of thirty-five years and many of these things we are now using may not even have existed in in the market place in those earlier years!


All this discussion is leading up to a particular magic stuff, which is being promoted quite heavily, via brochures and emails and articles in several newsletters including a recent excellent article on exhibiting roses in the American Rose, wherein use of this substance was recommended for the purpose of "flushing out built up fertilizer salts in our pots in which we grow roses" Oh! My God! I have never used this product and I do not want to be left behind! So, I had to look into it. I asked what is the active ingredient? How do we use it? What does it do? And how does it do that? I was told we are to use this in spring before we start fertilizing, to flush out the salts built up in our pots from fertilizers used all through the last growing season so that we can start all afresh for the new year! Did your soil test show that you have salts built up? Did you do a soil test before you used the product and one more after you used the product to see if there was 'built up salts' and if there was, was it effectively flushed by this magic flush? No, the soil test was never done in the last few seasons. So how do you know it works? The salt index in your soil is reported as EC for electrical conductivity and as long as it is below 1.0, you do not have to worry about salt built up. But the answer was, "Someone said it was good for your soil and your roses and to do it and it does not cost that much and certainly it does not seem to cause any harm." I was not satisfied with that answer. I talked to a few who were known to be using this year after year and they all said pretty much the same thing. My curiosity took over, and I decided to take a deeper dive into the subject. In my thinking, watering without adding any fertilizer for several months over the winter would flush the soil thoroughly of any and all water-soluble salts. The insoluble ones would neither affect the soil nor roses. So why are we using the "flush" to clear up our potting soil?


I tried to look up the topic and gathered the following information on the subject. This product was formulated specifically for use by Cannabis growers. The industry which serves Cannabis growers is indeed huge. They are all excellent businesses who provide great customer service, prompt shipment, always keeping things in stock, so on and so forth. If you are looking for something you want to try on your roses and it is not generally available through the usual garden supply stores, just check on one of these sites which serve the cannabis growers. You will be impressed, because most likely, you will find it there! I know because I was once looking for water- soluble Si and when I researched on internet, boom, here it was , on a site which serviced cannabis growers. I ordered two pounds. That was followed up by an avalanche of emails, messages and promotional materials, some of which welcomed me to the "big boys club" and offered to teach me, step by step, how to grow cannabis in a way undetectable to anyone, including my wife and my kids. I looked for a product called Boost, which I heard of from a friend from Ohio a long time ago. I thought I would try it. And boom, here it was available again from cannabis service industry. I am looking for "low biuret urea" for the purpose of trying foliar feeding, because I learnt the main reason why rose foliage gets burnt frequently when foliar feeding is employed is because of this impurity contained in urea. I have not found a source for it yet. But I am digressing from the main topic. Which is, the stuff which clears your potting soil of salt build up.


I researched it online. And yes, again it is specifically made for the purpose of "clearing salts from the growing media, hydroponic solution or even the soil, AND the plant itself", because it says when you "clear the plant and the media of all salts, the plants are forced to use all nutrients already present in the plants and this absence of salts in the plant, which has been flushed will have better taste and flavor. If not flushed, the smoke could be harsh.


And yes, there are about twenty different flushing agents sold and available, all of which are supposed to do the same thing! I tried to find out what the active ingredient/ingredients are and how they work. And that lead me to find out some weird claims like, "The substance will magically chelate the salts inside the plant and magically flush it out of the plant by osmosis" I came across some blog threads on the topic. And there I found that most likely, the "active ingredients" are sucrose, 3% and dextrose 1.5% and 95.5% inert ingredients, namely water. Yes, it appears to be little more than sugar water. One of the web sites went so far as to say, for a hobbyist, flushing with plain water will do. it may take just a little bit longer. Some participants said they have tried two or three different brands and compared the results with plain water flushing, and they found absolutely no difference. But some of the same people still use one product or the other, because, you guessed it, it is not that expensive, and it won’t harm the plants, and IF it resulted in better taste, they want it. There was one survey asking about your experience with Brand A vs Brand B, and have you used them, which one do you like better, and which one gives you better results? Someone responded, "I always use only water and it works just as well for me as either of these" to which the surveyor responded by saying, "Yes, My mistake; I should have offered using good old plain water as a choice as well!"


One other point of interest: if indeed, there is a "hyper-osmolar condition" inside the plant, it is physiologically impossible for a normo-osmolar solution to magically "pull out" salts from inside the plant by osmosis, as suggested by some bloggers. Rather, water from outside the cells will enter the cell until the concentration of the salt becomes the same, both outside and inside the cell. Physiologic sounding words which tend to impress one with the blogger's knowledge of plant physiology. If the goal is to reduce the “salt build up” inside the plant cells, it is best accomplished with plain water.


Oh! Well! If we do have a product on the shelf and if we can easily impress some rose growers, vegetable growers or whatever else growers about how great this stuff works and they will buy it, why not promote it, and sell it to them?


So, the inference I make is this:

1. This stuff was designed for "flushing cannabis growing media, or hydroponic solution and the plant" 2. Simple water will work just as well for the purpose of flushing. 3. The magic stuff seems to have little more than sugar water. 4. It was not designed for roses in the first place, and certainly not in the way it is recommended to be used. No one has tested soil for roses before using it to confirm a "salt build up exists" and another test to see if it did "clear up" the soil. 5. This is of highly questionable value for rose growers, in the way it is recommended to be used. 6. You will not lose to another exhibitor simply because you did not use this, and he did!


I do always enjoy being corrected. I am sure there is a reasonable possibility that I am all wrong about this; in which case I am sure someone will be able to and delighted to educate me on what, how, and why of this matter and I will be looking forward to it! Do you use this stuff? If you do, have you ever tested your soil before and after? Why do you use it? I would love to hear from you!


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