Have you heard of mycorrhizae (mi-coh-ri-zee)?  My brother and I first learned about this amazing stuff in Biology 186 a few years ago.  As soon as I mentioned that I wanted to plant a garden, he began calling nurseries and scouring the Internet to find some.

Mycorrhizae is what gardener's like to call "a grower's best friend."  Naturally occurring in nature, it one of Mother Natures magic tools that enable plants in the rainforest are able to grow so big, so lush, and so dense without any fertilizer or pesticides.  In fact, mycorrhizae has become essential to the survival of some plant species that have problems developing their root systems. 

So What Is Mycorrhizae?

Mycorrhizae is a fungus.  Yup, eww. I hate the thought of fungi and to this day can't eat mushrooms because it makes me think of warts and athlete's foot.  I know, it's weird... Moving on...

Mycorrhizae gets its name from the Greek root words "mycos" meaning fungus, and "rhiza" which means "root."  This wonder microbe is literally just that, a plant root fungus!  Unlike Fusariam Wilt, Southern Blight, and Powdery Mildew (common vegetable fungi that are detrimental to the plant), mycorrhizae is involved in what as known as a symbiotic relationship with the plant.  In biology, there are three common types of symbiotic relationships, mycorrhizae forms a mutually symbiotic relationship between the fungus and the plant's roots.  What this means is that relationship is advantageous to both parties. 

How does it work?

In a Mycorrhizal relationship, the fungi colonize the plants' roots increasing their surface area by up to 1,000 times!  Several miles of fungal mycelium and hyphae (fungal filaments and "fingers") can be present in less than a thimbleful of soil.  Because of this increased surface area, mycorrhizae assist their host plants by increasing the plants' ability to capture water and essential nutrients from the soil, and transfer them into the plant's roots.  Mycorrhizal fungi enhance nutrient uptake not only by increasing the surface absorbing area of roots, they also release powerful chemicals into the soil that dissolve hard-to-capture nutrients, such as phosphorous, iron and other complex soil nutrients.  The fungi also provide protection against pathogens and nematodes. 

Plant root systems with and without mutually symbiotic mycorrhizae.

In return the  mycorrhizal fungi feed on the carbohydrates (sugars), amino acids and other waste elements excreted by the plant roots.  It’s a symbiotic system that ensures vigorous plant growth.  And get this: the mycorrhizae-plant relationship is the rule in nature rather than the exception.  95% of all known plant species—trees, vegetables, grass, ornamentals—have at least one kind of mycorrhizal fungi colonizing its roots!

{Image Source} This picture shows the microscopic detail of the fungal hyphae (thin white strings) as they attach to a plants roots (in yellow)

Why Should I Use Mycorrhizae?
In case you haven't been paying attention, here are some more reasons why using mycorrhizae in your garden is completely beneficial:
  • 100% Natural and organic treatment (Mycorrhizae is a living organism)
  • Tried and tested by nature over more than 400 million years
  • One treatment lasts the duration of a plants' lifetime (when transplanting in final position)
  • Easy and safe to apply
  • Increased drought resistance and immunity to heat stress
  • Decreased requirement for chemical Fertilizers and pesticides
  • Faster growth due to increased uptake of soil nutrients
  • Increased resistance to root diseases
  • Helps limit weed invasion (through improved soil structure)
  • Increased root area, flowering & fruiting
  • Increased survival rates of transplants and seedlings
  • Can be applied to mature plants and trees
  • Mycorrhizal roots take hold faster in newly planted plants
Mycorrhizae v. Fertilizer

While fertilizers can be extremely beneficial in replacing nutrients to the soil, many fertilizers encourage top growth (flowering and fruiting) at the expense of root development.  Because of the unbalanced root-to-shoot ratio, many plants are vulnerable to stressful environments.  Mycorrhizae not only stimulates root growth and increases root surface area, but because the plant has a better developed root system, it is able to flower and fruit faster and larger than plants given traditional fertilizer. 

Mycorrhizae also improves soil structure and prevents root disease, while fertilizer cannot; and over fertilizing will kill the plant. 

Application of Mycorrhizae
Micorrhizal innoculants come in powder form and are quick and easy to apply.  The only precursor to getting it right is to make sure the mycorrhizae comes in contact with the plants' roots.  To inoculate the soil, simply sprinkle the instructed amount into the hole where the transplant will be placed.

Journal Ideas!

Writing in your garden journal is so important to future success and failures of your crops. 
  • Did you decide use mycorrhizae in your garden?
  • Why or why not?
  • Where did you purchase your mycorrhizae?
  • What brand did you purchase?
  • How much did you use per plant?
  • Are you planting some plants without the use of mycorrhizae for comparison purposes?
  • Take before and after pictures


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