Life below the soil is rich and diverse. Millions of different organisms call home in the root zone of a regular plant, from bacteria to nematodes, to fungi. Many of these organisms aim to hurt the plant, while many others are neutral or aim to help it. Without a doubt, the most beneficial organism present, however, is the mycorrhizae fungi.
What Are they?
They are made up of tiny string like growths that are thin enough to grow inside the roots of plants. They connect together and form massive networks that can span entire forests. Pictured is the iconic Amanita muscarina which forms a powerful bond with many of the trees found in temperate forests. The presence of this mushroom is a clear indication of strong health in these forests and is a marker for environmentalists for areas of high drought and disease resistance. This is because of the many benefits that come along with mycorrhizal fungi.
When you find mushrooms in the forest, many of these are actually the fruiting bodies of this mycorrhizae fungi. They send these out simply as a way of sending its spores out to grow in new areas and find the roots of new plants to grow in.
Why are they helpful?
Mycorrhizae fungi are incredibly beneficial for plants because they break down organic matter in the soil, and deliver the nutrients directly to the plant's roots. The fungi use various specialized enzymes to break down organic matter into its raw elements, which it then transports up to the root system of its host plants to make them more readily available.
You may be wondering what the fungi gets out of the deal since nothing in nature is that giving. While the fungi deliver much of the nutrients they break down such as phosphorous, the plant trades water and sugar with the mushroom to continue growing. The relationship is symbiotic which means both the plant and the fungi benefit from the deal.
Both the fungi and the plant receive a buffer for drought or water shortages, by sharing the available water between them and the fungi are given a place to live and hibernate during the cold winter months (in the roots).
The presence of this mycorrhizae greatly increases the surface area of a plant's reach and significantly improves its resistance to poor soil, droughts, and other natural stresses. Old growth forests have been found to have massive networks of mycorrhizae connecting all of the trees and plants together. This makes the forest incredibly strong, and able to share the nutrients where it is needed most.
Introducing Mycorrhizae Into soil
It is incredibly easy to introduce mycorrhizae fungi into your grow. Most products containing mycorrhizae come as a powder that contains both the spores and live cells. All you need to do is powder the roots of your plants or the hole in the soil in which they will go, and let them do their thing naturally. They are incredibly fast growers, and no special steps are needed to keep them alive inside the roots of your plants. The only step that could be taken as a precaution, it to avoid watering for the first 6-12 hours after inoculation. This is simply just so that the fungus can settle, and find its way into the roots of your plants before they are washed away. This is only a precaution though and watering is not likely to cause all of the microscopic spores and fungal cells to wash completely away.
Inoculating Mycorrhizae Into Hydroponics
Yes, you can even use mycorrhizae with your hydroponically grown plants! Most high-quality mycorrhizae products contain a variety of species in a water soluble powder. To use them, all you need to do is sprinkle the powder over the rots, or mix into some water and pour over your root zone. Not all of the species will usually survive but their will be a few that find this environment perfect for them and will begin to grow into your roots.
Even in a hydroponic system mycorrhizae can have a significant impact on the overall health of your plants. They help buffer water levels in the plant to protect them longer during pump failures or from drying out, and they help to make essential nutrients more available to your roots. One of the most important and useful benefits mycorrhizae offer your plants is to protect them from other invading organisms such as the pythium which can decimate crops in a matter of days. The mycorrhizae inhabit the roots and offer their defenses when attacking organisms such as this try to take over.
Why you should choose mycorrhizae for your grow
Many professional and hobby growers alike are already reaping the benefits of mycorrhizae in with their grow. This natural inhabitant of forests and fields is lacking in the indoor and greenhouse environment despite its ability to be cultivated easily in these environments. The incredible benefits to be had from its incorporation should not be overlooked. In fact, many garden centers return policy of trees or outdoor crops only allow the exchange of these plants if a mycorrhizae was used during planting. This is because using mycorrhizae is incredibly easy and the chances of these plants surviving when it is used increases ten fold.
Whether growing with hydroponics or in soil, mycorrhizae fungi offer significant preventative benefits to your crop and can increase yield. Though there are many different kinds of mycorrhizae, and each thrives in a different situation, most products on the market will have a variety of strains to ensure your crop finds the one it needs.