I’ve been asked more than once recently how landscapers could incorporate the use of biochar into their businesses. Not being in the biz myself, I decided to do some investigating to understand a bit more about the specific services landscapers provide to better understand how to answer this question. Obviously services will vary significantly by region, but in my neck of the woods services generally seem to fall in to a few basic categories: lawn care, tree care and some are now offering environmental services such as rain & roof gardens. (Hardscaping is also a big service area, but I’ll leave that one out for now.) Below are some ideas on how biochar might be used in various landscaping services:
On the lawn care front there are at least two services where biochar could be very useful. Establishing new lawns is required for newly built homes and office buildings. Unfortunately many times builders scrape away the topsoil to facilitate building and then sell it off, leaving poor quality subsoil which contributes to poor lawns and significant runoff in some places. Adding biochar prior to establishing new lawns will provide much needed carbon, improve water management and reduce leaching and erosion.
Aeration services are provided for already established lawns that suffer from compaction caused by heavy lawn equipment, heavy rainfall, foot traffic, etc. Compaction reduces the soil’s ability to absorb water and oxygen resulting in thatch, rapid drying, rain run-off and other issues. Typically this is dealt with by pulling out soil plugs to allow for improved air and water penetration. Instead of leaving these new holes empty, filling them with highly porous biochar would likely prevent holes from caving in while still allowing for air and water to enter.
Tree care and biochar is a great closed loop opportunity. Many times when trees are pruned or removed the debris is chipped and transported offsite, incurring increased cost for the homeowner and sometimes logistical headaches for the landscaper if there are no local places that will accept chips. Thus charring leftover biomass on-site could not only make debris management cheaper, but could provide high quality biochar for various uses for the homeowner or the landscaper. Planting trees with biochar has been shown in various trials to improve survival rates as well as to improve growth rates.
Environmental services such as rain gardens and bioswales seem to be increasingly popular, at least in the Finger Lakes region. No doubt this is in an attempt to better manage the increasing number of heavy precipitation events and reduce costly flooding impacts. In contrast to using sand in rain gardens and bioswales, biochar makes an excellent light weight, highly porous filtration medium.
Overall I’d have to say biochar production and use within the landscaping industry makes for a great closed loop scenario! One model that has been popping up in different locations is for landscapers to purchase portable kilns such as the Kon-Tiki, and either rent these to homeowners for a few days so they can char on their own, or to provide charring services in lieu of chipping & shipping debris. (Note: it is recommended to wait a few days after pruning to lower the moisture content.)