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Mycorrhizae, the Gardener’s Friendly Fungi

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Can a fungus help plants absorb up to 50 times more nutrients and lead to bigger and enhanced yields? Mycorrhizae (my-co-rye-zay) may do just that. Perhaps you’ve seen these soil additives on the nursery shelf or in seed catalogs.

Mycorrhizal fungi attach themselves to plant roots, extend out into the ground, and scrounge for water and nutrients to take back to the plants. The plants in turn share some of the carbohydrates manufactured through their photosynthesis, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.

MYCORRHIZAE PROS AND CONS: Are these amazing fungi worth adding to your garden’s soil? Here are facts to consider.

Perhaps 80 to 90 percent of plants already have a healthy root-to-fungus relationship. Most of the mushrooms you see in the forest and around your yard are the parts of mycorrhizal fungi which pop up to spread spores. Most mycorrhizae however remain hidden, silently working to enhance your soil and your plants’ health.

Healthy soil doesn’t need additions of mycorrhizae but soils that have been altered or mistreated may benefit. Mycorrhizae can help plants growing in artificial potting mixtures and in areas in which the topsoil has been removed, eroded, excessively fertilized, sterilized, repeatedly tilled, or heavily treated with pesticides. Many trees, particularly pines and other conifers, cannot grow or grow poorly without the help of these fungal partners.

Other things to consider before adding these amendments:

  • There are many different types of mycorrhizae; therefore commercial formulations may or may not be helpful for your particular plants and soil.
  • There is little benefit to adding mycorrhizae to soils that have been regularly fertilized, especially with phosphorous.
  • Mycorrhizae must be alive to do their job. They are useless if killed by improper handling or storage, including excess heat or cold.

: You can promote the wellbeing and growth of your garden’s existing mycorrhizae and other beneficial soil life as well by creating a friendly environment.

  • Use only modest amounts of concentrated fertilizer–if any. Fertilizers, especially phosphorous, can suppress mycorrhizal activity.
  • Forget regularly tilling or spading your soil. Instead feed plants and improve your soil by adding top layers of compost, fallen leaves, aged barnyard manures, and other organic soil conditioners and mulches.
  • Go easy on pesticides. Remember that mycorrhizae are living beings and are susceptible to powerful chemicals.

To learn about the different types of mycorrhizae and their benefits, go to

Vera Strader encourages her garden’s mycorrhizae to work long and industriously.