Mycorrhizae (meaning “fungus root” in Greek) should be on your best friends’ list. Why you ask? Micorrhizae are the most successful partnerships of all time. This beneficial fungi are expert miners for water and nutrients, with a focus on phosphorus. At first the miccorhizal fungi spores germinate in the soil and make their way to colonize the nearest plant roots. This is the start of a life-long symbiotic relationship between plant and fungi, called “mycorrhiza”. The fungi connects many vegetables and shrubs, flowers and trees with each other – many 100 times the original root space due to the hyphae that spreads and develops a network of filaments (fine and intricately branched hyphae threads).
In the soil food web, the underground ecosystem is made up of insects, worms, algae and bacteria, microscopic creatures and fungi. Saprophytic fungi decomposes woody material, and mycorrhizal transports food in the soil.
Every plant that serves as host to this fungi, benefits through the receiving of the water, nutrients and phosphorus and then gratefully gives thanks with much-needed glucose to the fungus. After photosynthesis, extra sugars are traded by the plants for protection and food. Fungus can spread much wider and further than root systems – giving trees and plants access to soil food outside of their reach. A win-win situation. Being part of an extended feeding community makes mycorrhizae-connected plants visibly healthier.
The list of benefits and why Mycorrhizae is important to your plants, include:
- Nutrients are delivered on the plant’s demand and need.
- The fungi reproduce by means of spores, with or without the presence of a host.
- Production of more vigorous and healthy plants.
- Resulting in higher yields and improved crop production.
- Improved flowering and fruiting.
- Establishing after transplanting seedlings are more successful.
- They have a much higher tolerance for soil salinity and need less irrigation and feeding.
- Soil structure improvement and elimination of erosion.
- Stronger and much healthier root formation plus fewer soil pest issues.
- Mycorrhizal fungi respond to inequality of resources by moving phosphorus from richer to poorer areas across networks.
- Reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions (greenhouse gas).
- Possible reduction of heavy metal impact in host plants.
- Increased resistance to soil-borne pathogens (bacterial or fungal).
Micorrhizae thrives in undisturbed soil that is rich in organic matter. Use no-dig gardening methods (https://gardeningeden.net/2019/10/02/the-no-dig-gardening/) and cover your soil with compost and other natural materials such as wood chips that will eventually break down to further feed the soil. Do not work the compost or material into the soil – just leave it on top as a blanket.
While it is possible to buy and use Mycorrhizal fungi inoculants, it may be of a combination of fungi that does not suit your plant needs. Endomycorrhizal fungi (aka arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi) for example is associate with about 90% of plant species, including vegetables, grasses and many ornamental plants. Ectomycorrhizal fungi however is only associated with about 5% of plants, but are very important for conifers, beech, oak, willows and other deciduous trees. You can either mix the powder into the root balls (or seeds) before planting, or adding it to the watering can before irrigation.
The ideal is however to let your green space recover to its natural health balance, which it will if you let it. If you do opt for this method, make sure to test your soil for available phosphorous for example.
Remember the No-No’s:
Tilling and hoeing will make it impossible for the fungus to settle and thrive. Even annual tiling.
Synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, weed-killing plastic solarization and of course fungicides will destroy your precious micorrhizae. Monocultures, specifically cabbage family members slows down the successful spread.
Note: Mycorrhizal fungi may start of as a friend but end up taking over and turning parasitic due to poor light conditions for example where photosynthesis can not happen fast enough or where soil that is chemically fertilised .