Reclaiming Degraded Tailings Pile Soil: H-Start Reclaim Research Results

Img blog Reclaiming Degraded Tailings Pile Soil

Land reclamation is a critical environmental challenge, especially in areas with degraded soil like tailings piles. The HumaTerra team completed a series of trials to assess the efficacy of H-Start Reclaim in facilitating plant growth and root development in challenging conditions.

Both trials used a sample from a tailings pile that was extremely low in nutrient availability, organic matter, and other biology typically required for sustainable plant growth as the growing medium.

NOTE: These trials were under controlled conditions and cannot be guaranteed as performance indicators in a natural setting.

Key Findings

  • A general improvement of soil functionality, growth hormone production, and salt tolerance was observed from an application of H-Start Reclaim.
  • The observed increase in root and shoot mass was attributed to changes in microbial communities, supporting the role of H-Start Reclaim for reclamation efforts.
  • Genetic transfer and enhanced soil functionality with H-Start Reclaim was confirmed.
  • A surface or hydroseeded application of H-Start along with additional nutrients, seeds, and tackifiers would be a very effective combination to re-develop soil functionality and subsequent plant establishment in reclamation efforts.

Trial 1: Hydroseeding with H-Start Reclaim

The first trial, conducted from October 10 to November 15, 2022, aimed to gauge the impact of H-Start Reclaim on soil function and tall red fescue growth. Seeds were placed on the surface of the sample from a tailings pile to replicate a hydroseeding operation.  Two formulations of H-Start were used at two rates: H-Start A and H-Start B at both 500 kg/ha and 1000 kg/ha. 

What we measured:

  • Germination rates
  • Shoot and root weight
  • DNA analysis to identify improvements in soil quality

Germination and Growth Results

  • H-Start Reclaim A at 500 kg/ha showed a significant increase in root and shoot
  • Delayed germination was observed in plants treated with H-Start Reclaim B at 1000 kg/ha, affecting final biomass measurements.
    • The plants that did germinate early at this rate were top performers in the trial.
    • Later germinating plants demonstrated vigorous growth by the end of the trial.
    • Germination rates could have been affected by seed quality, seed placement, or poor seed to soil contact.


TreatmentShoot Weight (g/plant)% Change from Control
B 500kg/ha0.0038787.1%
B 1000kg/ha0.0031451.7%
A 1000kg/ha0.0030044.8%
A 500kg/ha0.0028738.4%



Root Weight (g/plant)

% Change from Control

B 500kg/ha0.0013713.2%
A 1000kg/ha0.001210.0%
A 500kg/ha0.00113-6.7%
B 1000kg/ha0.00100-17.6%

Soil DNA Analysis Results

  • At the end of each trial, residual soil was sent for DNA analysis by Biome Makers DNA testing lab. The DNA testing tells us the degree of genetic transfer from H-Start Reclaim and the resulting restoration of key soil functions.

    • DNA analysis revealed increased bacteria and fungi, particularly with H-Start Reclaim B at 1000 kg/ha.
    • The control soil showed an increase in soil biological counts consistent with the natural byproducts of plant growth.
    • Stress adaptation microbes increased in soils treated with H-Start Reclaim but not in the control.
    • Growth hormones auxin and cytokinin increased in the soil treated with H-Start. These hormones are likely responsible for the root and shoot growth observed.
    • Increases in microbes responsible for increased salt tolerance were observed in the H-Start treated soil.
Taxa Abdunancies Copies per Gram
taxa abundancies chart

Trial 2: Exploring Genetic Transfer and Growth Patterns

The second trial, conducted from November 28 to December 19, 2022, focused on lower rates of H-Start Reclaim B (100 kg/ha and 200 kg/ha) with Diploid Annual Ryegrass. One experiment included the addition of Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria (PGPR) to explore the potential for prescriptive blends of H-Start in certain soil types. 

What we measured:

  • Germination rates
  • Shoot and root weight
  • DNA analysis to identify improvements in soil quality


Trial 2 was terminated early due to senescence of leaves in all treatments.  Diploid Annual Ryegrass is extremely aggressive and fast-growing and not well suited to small lab scale trials.  Plants did not reach peak growth potential prior to early decline.  If more tests are done with annual ryegrass, a larger growing area must be used to increase the trial length. Despite the early termination of the trial, the following observations were noted:
  • H-Start Reclaim at 200 kg/ha + PGPR exhibited increased root mass due to increased absorbent root hairs but only a slight increase in above ground shoot length. The treatment of 200 kg per hectare exhibited longer roots with less root hairs and resulting lower root mass.
  • Germination was observed on approximately 50% of seeds 48 hours after planting.
  • Aggressive growth was exhibited in the first 14 days in trials. Rapid plant decline began after 18 days.
  • Very little difference in above ground plant biomass was observed upon termination due to general decline of all trials.
Root Weight (g/plant) % Change From Control
200 kgs + PGPR 0.0082 46.4%
100 kgs + PGPR 0.0065 16.1%
200 kgs /ha 0.0063 13.1%
100 kgs /ha 0.0056 0.0%
Control 0.0056
Plant Height (cm) % Change From Control
200 kgs /ha 11.2 4.9%
200 kgs + PGPR 10.8 0.9%
Control 10.7
100 kgs /ha 10.5 -1.9%
100 kgs + PGPR 10.5 -1.9%

Learn More

HumaTerra continues to test H-Start Reclaim and other H-Start products for both their impact on root and shoot biomass and influence on soil health.  Get in touch to learn more or if you’d like to trial H-Start Reclaim on a reclamation site.