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What in the world does sugar have to do with fighting weeds?
Well, before you go sprinkling sugar on your lawn, we'd better clarify a few things. Research scientists with IFAFS are trying to see if adding carbon, in the form of sugar, to the soil will shift the competive balance in favor of native plants. Are they crazy you ask? Well maybe in other ways, but the idea of using sugar is founded on...shall we say pretty 'sweet' science.
It's all about the nitrogen
Soil microbes that do all the decomposition of organic material need nitrogen to carry out their work. They can get this nitrogen from the organic material they are decomposing. If there isn't enough of nitrogen in the organic material, they can gather it from the surrounding soil. Sugar doesn't contain nitrogen, so soil microbes must take it from the soil. This reduces the amount of nitrogen available for plants. Species native to the Great Basin are used to limited nitrogen... but cheatgrass doesn't do as well under these conditions. By limiting available nitrogen, scientists hope to shift the competetive balance toward native plant species.
If this strategy works, maybe another carbon source, like sawdust or crop wastes, can be used in place of sugar. This will be cheaper and we can save the sweet stuff for baking cookies.