The Benefits of Adding Mycorrhizae Fungi

Excerpted from: Mycorrhizae in the Garden

Graphic of Soil Food Web

The soil food web is the community of organisms living all or part of their lives in the soil. It describes a complex living system in the soil and how it interacts with the environment, plants, and animals.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy and productive organic garden, there is a lot more happening than meets the eye! In addition to the obvious elements such as sun, soil and water, there is a dynamic network of living things that work within the soil to help plants thrive.

Critters and microscopic organisms decompose organic matter, transform nutrients and minerals, and create various reactions that contribute to overall soil fertility. One of the key players in this essential ‘soil food web’ is mycorrhizae – something you can routinely add to your garden soil!

  What is the 'Soil Food Web'?

The soil food web refers to the complex relationships between the diverse groups of fauna and flora found in soil. These groups include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, microarthropods, and the larger plants and animals found in and around soil.

The composition of each specific web is greatly influenced by biological, chemical and physical forces in the environment. Plants thrive best under the specific soil food web that it had naturally evolved under over millennia.

The roots provide essential nutrients for the growth of the fungi. In return, the large mass of fungal hyphae, the long filamentous branches found in fungi, acts as a virtual root system for the plants, increasing the amount of water and nutrients that the plant may obtain from the surrounding soil.

  What Is Mycorrhizae?

Mycorrhizae is a form of beneficial fungus — one that cannot live without being connected to plant roots. Yet the connection isn’t just about helping the fungi survive. Together, they form a symbiotic relationship that offers outstanding benefits to the host plant as well, such as increased nutrient uptake, added resilience to disease or stress, and higher yields.

Over 95% of the world’s plants form beneficial associations with mycorrhizal fungi. Some types colonize on the surface of plant roots only, known as ecto-mycorrhizae. These fungi bond with select woody trees like conifers, hazelnuts, and pecans. In contrast, endo-mycorrhizae penetrate the root cells to become a part of the root system itself.

Benefits of Using Mycorrhizae

  Promotes larger plant growth and healthier, deeper dark green foliage.
  Leads to greater flower and fruit production.
  Enhanced resilience to stress, heat, and other environmental changes.
  Improved water uptake, leading to increased drought-resistance.
  Lessens the risk of transplant shock.
  When plant roots are colonized or coated with mycorrhizal fungi, it limits access to the roots by other harmful pests, fungi, or diseases.

  What Does Mycorrhizae Do?

Fungi Network
A fungal network of hyphae, not plant
roots, is the principal structure for the
uptake of many important nutrients
in the plant kingdom.

After colonizing plant roots, mycorrhizae acts like an extension of the plant’s root system and can increase the absorptive surface area of roots by up to 700 times! Imagine millions of little straws and fingers now available to more deeply and efficiently access valuable resources within the soil – including water, nutrients, and even air.

Furthermore, mycorrhizal fungi release enzymes that help to unlock and dissolve essential nutrients within the soil. That reaction makes those nutrients more bioavailable for plants to easily utilize, including phosphorus, iron, and other minerals. Keep in mind that mycorrhizae isn’t a fertilizer however, so it will only help the plant use nutrients that are present in the soil.

  How To Use Mycorrhizae In The Garden

Mycorrhizae should naturally be present in healthy, organic soil to some degree. Using organic gardening techniques such as compost, compost teas, cover crops, mulch, or no-till methods all foster a rich and diverse living soil food web!

Harsh chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides make soil sterile and inhospitable to all living things – including mycorrhizae, bacteria, worms and more.

There are 2 ways to inoculate your garden with mycorrhizae:

1. Sprinkle granular mycorrhizae directly on the root ball or in the planting hole when transplanting new plants into the garden or into a larger container.

2. Mix up a water-soluble mycorrhizae product and water it in. You can do this any time – be it right after transplanting, or to boost established plants later. If you direct-sow seeds right in your garden (such as beans, peas, or garlic), wait to water them with mycorrhizae until they’re at least several weeks old and have developed a couple sets of ‘true leaves.'

Read More About Fungi and Soil Health

  Beneficial Fungi

  Mushroom Biology: Overview

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