The importance of mycorrhizal fungi in the garden

photo courtesy of Mycorrhizal Applications, Inc.

photo courtesy of Mycorrhizal Applications, Inc.©. They have more inf on it.

I first heard about mycorrhizal (pronounced my-cor-hi-zal) fungi through my giant pumpkin grower friends. They started using it before most people in the community knew what it is. When I was becoming a Master Gardener, I asked one of my instructors about it and was told it he didn’t know much about it and that it wasn’t proven. So what is this ‘fungi’ that is proving so helpful for plants?

Mycorrhizal fungi are important components of soil life and can be found naturally in undisturbed soil. But when we till, or dig up the soil to garden, we disturb this soil life. Mycorrhizal fungi live on the roots of plants and have a mutualistic relationship with the plant’s roots. To explain it simply, the plant says, “I need water, I need phosphorus, I need resistance to diseases” to the fungi and the Mycorrhizal fungi says, “Ok, I can bring that stuff to you through my hyphae but I need sugars to survive” and the plant feeds it sugars. So they benefit each other. Mycorrhizal fungi cannot live without the plant’s roots so we should be sure to use it close to the roots where it will colonize.

When I had some problems a couple of years ago with some tomato plants, I send off  two plants to our state lab see if there was anything wrong with them. The guy at the state lab called me to tell me there wasn’t anything wrong with the plant except they had been exposed to some herbicide (Roundup) an were showing some damage but he did tell me my root systems were huge and asked what did I do and I told him I added mycorrhizal to the soil at the root zone.

We can inoculate the soil with Mycorrhizal fungi by two ways:

1. I put Mycorrhizal fungi granules (RTI brand) from in the bottom of the hole lightly mixed up with some soil when transplanting. Make sure the granules come in contact with the plant’s roots. I use this on all my giant pumpkins and squash but have also used it with my tomatoes. It is expensive though.

2. I drench the soil after transplanting with a solution of Fox’s Bushdoctor Microbe Brew which contains different kinds of Mycorrhizal and beneficial soil bacteria as well. This stuff works great as you only have to water it in once when you plant to get it down to the root zone. It is much cheaper too. Both of these ingredients can be purchased through the internet and Microbe Brew can be purchased locally at a hydroponics gardening store called All Seasons Gardening ((505) 438-4769) located off Rufina at 1228 Parkway Dr.  here in Santa Fe. Call for availability.

You can find more detailed info and other mycorrhizal products online at Mycorrhizal Applications, Inc.©

Mycorrhizal products here in Santa Fe

Someone just wrote me if I knew a source for Mycorrhizal (also called Mycorrhizae) products here in Santa Fe. So I thought I’d respond in a post in more detail as well as reply to him in the comment sections.

Mycorrhizal is a fungi that help protects plants from many diseases and drought like conditions. It forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots, making water and soil mineral nutrients more available to the roots of a plant while the plant feeds the mycorrhizae sugars it produces. It is found in nature in most UNDISTURBED soils. Gardens do not have undisturbed soil- we work the soil to various degrees adding amendments and tilling soil.

There are two main types of Mycorrhizal.

ECTOMycorrhizal works on more woody crops like trees. I don’t use it myself on my trees.

ENDOmycorrhizal works for most (90%) but not all vegetable crops (some crops do not respond to any Mycorrhizal like Brassica crops, spinach and beet crops). I used myco products for both my giant pumpkins and tomatoes in previous years but will also try it on all my curcubit crops this year as well as they seem to get the most diseases and the prices seem to be coming down on mycorrhizal products as it starts to become mainstream.

I just saw that Santa Fe Greenhouse has some Mycorizzial products. I bought ‘BUSHDOCTOR MICROBE BREW’ (by Foxfarm products) from SFGH and will try it this year. It is a liquid. It says on the directions to use 2 tsp/gal of water every 2 weeks as a drench. I think a bottle would last the whole gardening season for most people. I can’t remember what it cost (I bought it a month ago), but didn’t seem like it was exorbitant. I use to have to order myco on the internet so I’m anxious to see how it works. The Microbe Brew also has a bunch of soil bacteria and microbes in it besides the Mycorrhizal that will be good for the soil and plants as well. All these things help the plants either protect or fight off diseases-all organically.