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7 Best Ways To Use Mycorrhizae To Increase Your Soil Quality

Can your garden ever return to its previous glory with plenty of roots and healthy flowers?

Do you know the reason why you have unhealthy plants?

According to the Resources Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture, some natural land has seen a delcine in productivity of up to 50% because of desertification and soil erosion. This costs the USA about US$5,500 yearly.

Over millions of years, all forms of life have co-evolved with both bacteria and fungi. We would have been swimming in undecomposed organic matter in the absence of fungi and bacteria, which are classified as decomposers.

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With the rapidly growing world population and the effect of climate change, it is becoming an increasingly challenging task to assure food security and nutrition. Hence, the need to make the environmental and economic benefits of mycorrhizal fungi available to more gardeners.

Are you looking for new ways to improve the health of your garden?

We’ve got you covered. But first, let’s look at a summary of what you should expect:

  • How important are mycorrhizal fungi?
  • The major mechanisms involved in improving soil quality
  • The role of arbuscular mycorrhizae in maintaining soil quality
  • 7 Best ways to boost the health of your arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • How to use mycorrhizae to improve soil quality
  • 2 Factors to consider when using mycorrhizae to improve soil quality

How Important Are Mycorrhizal Fungi?

Mycorrhiza, a symbiotic association that involves fungi, plant roots, and the soil, is essential for most agricultural crops. The only plants that do not benefit from mycorrhizal fungi are most members of the Chenopodiaceae family (such as land squatters, beets, and spinach), and the Cruciferae family (such as mustard and broccoli).

Different varieties of crops have different dependency levels on mycorrhizae.

The formation of mycorrhizae is affected by land management practices. The number of mycorrhizae in the soil reduce in fallow fields and in fields where crops that don’t form mycorrhizae are planted. Also, any soil that is frequently tilled will have fewer mycorrhizal associations.

Broad-spectrum fungicides are not good for mycorrhizal fungi as they are very toxic. In the same vein, the inoculation of roots by very high levels of phosphorus or nitrogen fertilizer may be reduced. You can add inoculums of mycorrhizal fungi to the soil at the time of planting, as they are commercially available.

Additionally, mycorrhizal fungi help to link root cells to the different soil particles. Hyphae from endophytes help to bind sand grains to a root. The plants and fungi also bind sand grains to the root by secreting polysaccharides.

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The Major Mechanisms Involved in Improving Soil Quality

Mycorrhizae are capable of improving soil quality. They do this by building the soil structure. The mechanisms involved in accomplishing this are:

  • Biological
  • Biochemical
  • Biophysical

Let’s look at these mechanisms briefly.

What are they and how do they influence soil quality?

  1. Biological mechanism

Biologically speaking, depositing mycelium and exudates in the soil help to increase microbial biomass and is also a substrate for the growth of bacteria.

  1. Biochemical mechanism

Mycorrhizal hyphae secrete a biological glue known as glomalin to help with the aggregation of soil particles and water stability.

The compounds in the microbial soil biomass help to strengthen the attachment of soil particles. They also help to reduce water tension.

  1. Biophysical mechanism

Mycorrhizal hyphae also serve as a tunneling machine. They exert a considerable amount of pressure on the soil particles, forcing clay particles to mix with organic material. This leads to the formation of a micro aggregate.

Creating these tunnels will increase the penetration and movement of both air and water.

Also, mycorrhizal fungi promote wet-dry cycles to increase the binding of fungal exudates, roots, and clay particles.  They also entangle and un-mesh s0il particles, small aggregates, and organic matter. This combination helps to improve macro-aggregate formation.

The Role of Arbuscular Mycorrhizae in Maintaining Soil Quality

It was concluded at the fourth International Conference on Mycorrhizae (ICOM 4) held in Quebec that arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM) play a crucial role in maintaining the quality of the soil. The growth of AM fungi has a significant impact on soil.

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How can you maintain soil functionality?

To maintain soil functionality in natural and cultivated ecosystems, the effect of AM fungi on the soil structure, nutrient cycling, and water retention capacity needs to be considered.

AMF, just like several other soil organisms, serve as ecosystem engineers from the micro-scale upwards.

Recent research shows that glomalin, a soil glycoprotein produced by AM fungi, correlates positively with aggregate water stability. Its persistence in soil could be related either to its possible hydrophobic nature or its lasting effects on aggregate stability.

Since mycorrhizal colonization affects the soil structure, it is possible that AM fungi could also affect the soil-water relationship, as well as host plants.

Another soil function that AM fungi play a fundamental role in is the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. By enhancing the ability of the soil to absorb nutrients, AM fungi improve the ability of the host plants to take up nutrients. All these help to keep the soil well saturated.

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When the soil is properly saturated, there will be a noticeable improvement in soil functionality. Some of these improvements are:

  • Prevention of soil crust formation;
  • Increased resistance to erosion;
  • Reduce soil compaction;
  • Increased infiltration and flow of water and air;
  • Improvement of the water-holding capacity;
  • Reduction in nutrient loss;
  • Stimulation of beneficial microbial activity;

It seems that mycorrhizal plants are effective competitors and this works well when faced with the limitations of nitrogen and phosphorus.

7 Best Ways To Boost the Health of Your Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi

There’s a lot of advice on how to increase the AM fungi in your soil. 

Here’s are 7 things you can do to give your arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi a boost:

  1. Avoid pesticides:

A lot of pesticides can have an adverse effect on AMF even though they are highly resistant to compounds, such as fungicides. The more frequently you use pesticides and rotate them, the more your AMF will be damaged.

  1. Cover the soil at all times:

Always leave sufficient plant material on the surface of the soil to capture rainfall and keep the soil surface cooler. All soil life needs this as it will keep the temperature moderate and encourage moisture retention.

  1. Diversify:

It is crucial that you manage your diversity above the ground to build microbial and mycorrhizal diversity below the ground. Different species of AM fungi only favor some plant species, hence they interact either directly or through microbial relationships. This will increase the compounding rate.

Plant roots are colonized by different AM fungal species. Some take up water better, some relieve most environmental stresses, such as excessive salinity or soil compaction, while others are good defenders against some pathogens. It is better to get more.

Most trace mineral plants require AM fungi to provide good health, and transport the nutrients through the food chain. Plants that associate with AM fungi experience a higher nutrient density than those without AMF.

  1. Don’t till:

Tillage breaks up the hyphae/mycelium, which will mostly not reconnect. When they are broken, they will have to start all over again. Shorter mycelium will dramatically reduce the nutrients necessary for crops or forages.

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  1. Correct grazing:A multi-paddock and adaptive grazing are used to alternate the natural grazing pulse and defoliation with prolonged recovery periods. 
  1. Moderate the phosphorus content:
    1. Phosphorus is vital to plant life and is difficult to obtain in a natural setting. Therefore, to acquire phosphorus, plants trade with AMF. It is important to not expose plants to excessive amounts of phosphorus.

      Soil with too much phosphorus can cause as much damage as tillage. When the plants are young, they latch onto the source of inorganic phosphorus without developing a serious trading relationship with the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

      After a soil test, crops need up to 200 ppm of phosphorus for adequate growth. At 50-100 ppm, phosphorus fertility will be encouraged, especially when using arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi to colonize and trade with plants.

    2. Plan for a long growing season: 
    How long do you allow plants to grow in the soil?
    If you prolong the growing period, you will have more opportunities to feed all the microorganisms present in the soil. This helps to increase diversity, which is good for pastureland. You will also have more multi-species cover crops that will be great for your soil.

    How To Use Mycorrhizae To Improve Soil Quality

    Mycorrhizae can be applied via different methods. These days, they are produced in different forms, including granules and powder. So, you can choose to incorporate them into your growing media or mix them with water and apply either as a plug dip or a drench.

    Therefore, you can choose the most suitable application method for your growing practices.

    It is important that you apply mycorrhizae as soon as possible, instead of waiting for later in the plants’ life cycle. When you apply these beneficial fungi during seeding, transplanting, or propagation, the plants will be off to a great start and they can enjoy more of the benefits of the mycorrhizae.

    Also, the timing requires you to treat a lower soil volume, which is more cost-effective.

    As soon as the mycorrhizae are applied to the root of the growing plant, they go to work. However, you may not see the benefits until after about 8 to 12 weeks. You may see the changes a lot sooner if the growing conditions are more stressful. This is because mycorrhizae are the most beneficial to plants in stressful conditions.

    If you have previously treated the liners or plugs, you will easily notice the effects of the mycorrhizal enhancements on the plant’s performance when you transplant them into a larger container with more soil where they can expand.

    With as little as 10 cents, a professional grower can treat an entire tray of propagation. This is a one-time treatment that will lead to a long-lasting relationship between the mycorrhizae and the plant.

    You will enjoy increased fertilizer efficiency, vigor, water efficiency, drought resistance, transplant success, and fruiting/flowering throughout the life cycle of each plant.

    2 Factors to Consider When Using Mycorrhizae To Improve Soil Quality

    Generally, mycorrhizae work very well with a lot of other biological products, including bacteria and Trichoderma. These products are not impacted by herbicides, pesticides, or nematocides.

    Here are 2 major factors you should consider when incorporating mycorrhizae while planting:

    Fertilizer

    There is a possibility that high-level, water-soluble nitrogen and phosphorus can sometimes suppress the establishment of mycorrhizae in the plant’s root system. This happens because it tends to reduce the mutual needs of both the host and the fungus.

    Plants that tend to experience stress during the cultivation process usually develop a very strong relationship with the mycorrhizae they are associated with.

    With the controlled release of fertilizers in their organic forms, nutrients will be released slowly, leading to a reduced rate of increase in water-soluble nutrients in the substrate. Hence, they are recommended during the inoculation and establishment of mycorrhizae.

    For best results, while establishing mycorrhizae, endeavor to keep the nitrogen levels at no more than 200 ppm and  the P2O5 levels at about 100 ppm or less.

    Fungicides

    There are many fungicides that do not have a negative impact when used with mycorrhizae. After mycorrhizal inoculation, it is recommended that you wait before applying a fungicide, as this will give the mycorrhizae more time to establish themselves and develop.

    If you are unsure of the effect of a fungicide, it is advised that you apply it after the mycorrhizae and plant have had enough time to establish a relationship, which should take between 2 to 3 weeks.

    Alternatively, you can apply the fungicide first, then wait for about a week before introducing the mycorrhizae.

    Ready to Reap the Rewards of Incorporating Mycorrhizae into Your Gardening Protocol?

    By now, it is clear that mycorrhizal interactions are necessary for better plant growth, plant health, and soil quality. This is vital for sustainable natural ecosystems and agroecosystems.

    Mycorrhizal fungi have been used successfully in gardening and general agriculture. The incorrect use of these beneficial fungi can destroy the beneficial bacteria and fungi.

    Plant Revolution Inc. has developed many products and materials to help you achieve optimum results, while enjoying the immense benefits of mycorrhizae.