Taking a holistic approach to soil health is a key to increasing plant vigor and yields. High yields begin with healthy soil, and maintaining a proper balance between nutrients, microorganisms, and other compounds is an essential part of the soil health equation.
Mycorrhiza, which describes the symbiotic association between plants and a specialized root fungus, plays an important role in enhancing plant performance and growth.
Through this mutually beneficial relationship, mycorrhizal fungi colonize plants roots, enabling the roots to access nutrients and water that may otherwise be unavailable to plants.
Mike Amaranthus, founder of Mycorrhizal Applications, which focuses on the research and development of mycorrhizal inoculum for commercial use, explains exactly how these beneficial fungi work, and how you can use them to help improve overall plant health and increase yields.
What Are Mycorrhizae And How Do They Work?
According to Amaranthus, the relationship between mycorrhizae and plant roots has been active for approximately 460 million years, and between 85% to 90% of plants form this relationship in their natural habitat.
“It’s one of those relationships where both the plant and the fungus benefit,” Amaranthus says. “The mycorrhizae benefit the plant in allowing it to access nutrients and water that are essential for the plant’s performance and growth. In turn, the fungus depends on the plant for sugars from the plant roots, which give it the energy it needs to grow into the soil.”
The fungi act as “roots of the roots” and are fine threads that grow off of the roots themselves, Amaranthus says. They are especially important in the uptake of phosphorous, nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and other key micronutrients that may be bound up organically or on soil particles.
Weed, Disease, And Drought Benefits
Not all plants form mycorrhizal associations, including crops such as kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, canola, mustard, and sugar beets. But on the plus side, some of the world’s worst weeds do not form mycorrhizal associations either, Amaranthus says.
“Weeds come in following a disturbance in the soil, and disturbances knock out the mycorrhizae. Without mycorrhizae, the weeds get a competitive advantage and are better able to access phosphorous in the soil. If mycorrhizal fungi are established, you can help starve weeds of phosphorous,” he explains.