Do My Plants Need Mycorrhiza?

“Do my plants need mycorrhiza?” is a common question that crops up in the minds of home gardeners and commercial farmers. And the answer is a resounding yes. But before you take our word for it, let us try and understand why.

What is Mycorrhiza?

Mycorrhiza is a term used to describe a symbiotic relationship between soil fungi and the roots of plants (mycos – fungi, and rhiza – roots). A mycorrhiza is an evolutionary mechanism where plants growing in challenging environments developed a mutual symbiosis with fungi that could benefit their growth. The fungi, in turn, receive shelter and food from the plants.

Mycorrhiza is found in more than 90% of all terrestrial plants and seems to have been in existence for the past 400 million years.

Mycorrhizae are of two types – ectomycorrhizae and endomycorrhizae. In ectomycorrhizae, the fungus first develops a covering or sheath around the root and then produces elongated structures called hyphae. In endomycorrhizae, the fungus does not produce a sheath; instead, it grows within the cells of the root and then comes out into the soil.

By developing around the roots, the fungus develops a sort of a second root system, thereby extending the abilities of the plant’s own root system of absorbing water and nutrients from the surrounding soil. Almost all desert plants have mycorrhizae, without which they simply cannot survive.

How do Mycorrhizae Support the Growth of Plants?

As noted before, the fungus growing in close association with the plant’s roots develops an enhanced root system for the plant. This mycorrhizal root gains the enhanced ability to absorb more water from the soil. It also benefits from increased nutrient uptake from the soil.

In soils deficient in water and nutrients, mycorrhizal fungi not only help by absorbing more water and nutrients but also by storing them for future use, thereby protecting the plants during dry times. Even in soils that may have enough water and nutrients, many times the nutrients may not be easily available to the plants. In such cases, mycorrhizal fungi secrete enzymes that mobilize the nutrients and help the plant absorb them in sufficient quantities.

The best example of this is phosphorus solubilization and mobilization. Phosphorus in the soil is usually bound to the soil making it inaccessible to the plant. Mycorrhizal fungi release organic acids and certain enzymes that first release the phosphorus from the soil and then convert it into a form that is utilizable for the plant. Then through its hyphal superstructure, help the plant roots absorb sufficient quantities of this phosphorus.

When soil is supplemented with organic matter, mycorrhizal fungi help the plant absorb it. Both the organic matter and mycorrhizal fungi also  help condition the soil.. Research also suggests that mycorrhizal fungi are also able to dissolve rocks and release many inorganic nutrients into the soil.

Mycorrhizae also Augment other Plant-microbe Associations

In nature, plants have developed symbiotic associations with many different types of microorganisms, especially bacteria. These microorganisms grow and thrive within a specialized ecosystem called rhizosphere – the area closely surrounding the root boundary.

This sphere of influence of roots is the region where symbiotically associated microorganisms grow and benefit the plant through a variety of activities. They in turn receive food from the plant and a safe region to live and thrive. This type of association is called “mutualism.”

When mycorrhiza is present, the plant is able to develop a very robust association with other beneficial microorganisms in the soil. In short, mycorrhizae help build a strong rhizosphere. And the growth of the plant is supported by the combined activities of all these rhizosphere microbes.   

So How do I Supply These Beneficial Fungi to My Plants?

Through mycorrhizal inoculants. Mycorrhizal inoculants are natural soil augmentation products, or agri-inputs, that contain carefully chosen strains of mycorrhizal fungi.

When added to soil, these fungi form mycorrhizal associations with the plant roots to support plant growth through a myriad of activities, some of which we’ve already discussed.

While natural, undisturbed soil contains all of the beneficial microorganisms in sufficient quantities, many activities may deplete the soil of its microbial community, and worse still, add toxic chemicals to it.

Agriculture is an intensive process and many of its activities reduce the natural soil microbial population. And so if the soil is not augmented, it may lose its fertility. It is, therefore, necessary to add bioinoculants, including those with active mycorrhiza, regularly to keep the fertility of the soil high.  

Why Can’t I Just Use Commercially Available Chemical Fertilizers?

You can. But there are a couple of things you need to consider. One is the rising prices of chemical fertilizers which may make agriculture unviable. Second is the long-term effect of regular use of chemical fertilizers that may cause soil degradation and severe loss of fertility, leading to a loss in yield.  

Regular use of chemical fertilizers also does not ensure that your plants will get all the nutrients present in them. Many nutrients in the fertilizers become unavailable to the plant due to their reaction with soil and they become immobilized. This means that to support the sustainable growth of your plants, you will have to add increasing amounts of chemical fertilizers every season.

What Should I Look at While Buying a Mycorrhizal Bioinoculant?

There are many mycorrhiza-based fertilizers available in the market. However, all these products are not equal. You should first understand your specific requirements and then choose the best product for your applications.

Beware of misleading labels and claims. Many biofertilizers might contain either none or only a few types of mycorrhizal fungal strains. Remember that a good quality mycorrhiza-based bioinoculant needs to have a wide variety of either ecto- or  endo-mycorrhizal strains that support the growth of the plants you are inoculating. They should also be present in appropriate concentrations so as to supply a sufficient number of fungal spores to each plant’s roots. This will help them colonize the rhizosphere faster and develop mycorrhizae early to help plants grow better.   

Plant Revolution’s range of premium products – Great White® and Orca® - contains a potent mix of beneficial microorganisms. The specific strains and concentrations can be found on the product’s ingredient tab.These products can be used by both the commercial farmer and the home gardener and are equally effective in soil, coco, or a hydroponics system. Each of Plant Revolution’s products is meticulously designed for a variety of applications and uses.

Parting Thoughts

In the past few decades, there has been a marked shift in how we grow our crops and plants. The result of the overuse of chemical fertilizers in our ecosystem is for all to see. In such a scenario, it becomes important to reclaim soil fertility through the judicious use of natural processes.

The use of biofertilizers containing beneficial soil microbes, including mycorrhizal fungi is all the more important to augment the soil in a bid to preserve its fertility and leverage the natural processes to practice sustainability in agriculture.