The Role of Mycorrhizal Fungi in Enhancing Plant Health and Yield

Few gardeners realize that they have a team of superheroes at their disposal. And just like any other self-respecting superheroes, they even have secret identities, sort of. 

Mycorrhizal fungi, a type of fungus that lives in soil, are relatively unknown. They don’t sound particularly impressive, or appealing, but they can do amazing things for your plants and soil.

The Role of Mycorrhizal Fungi in Enhancing Plant Health and Yield | Vego Garden

If they’re in your garden, they can help you produce healthier plants and enhance your crop production. And when it comes to your soil, mycorrhizal fungi can improve its structure and porosity, making it easier for your plants to absorb water.

The fungi’s benefits are tied to their symbiotic relationship with plant roots, Vego Garden Horticulturist Sydney Fiene explained.

“The fungi colonize the root system of a host plant, and they provide increased water and nutrient-absorption capabilities while the plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates formed from photosynthesis,” Fiene said. “They kind of work hand-in-hand. It is very cool.”

In some ways, the fungi even give plants superpowers of their own.

Stronger, healthier plants

For one thing, mycorrhizal fungi help plants fight off bad guys like soil-borne diseases by competing for resources and producing antimicrobial compounds. The fungi also enhance plants’ immune systems, improving their ability to resist diseases and infections.

Plus, when mycorrhizal fungi are present in your garden’s soil, your plants are better able to absorb water. How does this work? The fungi form a network of hyphae (fine, thread-like structures) around plant roots, extending the plant's reach into the soil. These hyphae are incredibly efficient at absorbing water from the soil and transporting it back to the plant. 

During periods of drought or dry conditions, this enhanced water absorption helps ensure that plants have a steady supply of moisture, reducing the risk of water stress.

Better-fed plants

The hyphae network created by mycorrhizal fungi also contributes to well-fed plants. It extends their reach into the soil and increases their surface area for nutrient absorption. This allows plants to access essential elements like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium more efficiently, which in turn, promotes healthy growth and development.

The fungi provide plants with a multivitamin of sorts, too, by releasing enzymes that break down organic matter and rocks in the soil.

“The minerals in the rock are broken down and get absorbed by the plant roots,” Fiene said. “Then the plants get all of those extra goodies.”

Improved soil conditions

The benefits of mycorrhizal fungi extend to where they hang out: They have a positive impact on soil, too.

“The fungi play an important functional role in the ecosystem,” Fiene said. “They help enhance soil structure.”

That’s because the hyphae created by mycorrhizal fungi are coated with glomalin, a sticky substance that helps bind soil particles together. When old hyphae die and break down, the glomalin is released into the soil. This results in the creation of soil aggregates, which enhance soil structure, aeration, and drainage, creating an optimal environment for healthy, growing roots.

End results: increased plant vigor and yield

When you combine all of mycorrhizal fungi’s benefits: enhanced nutrient uptake, water absorption, and disease resistance, mycorrhizal fungi can significantly enhance your plants’ health and productivity. 

Plants grown in symbiosis with these beneficial fungi often exhibit increased root mass, larger and more abundant flowers, and higher yields of fruits and vegetables. In other words, using mycorrhizal fungi is an extremely effective way to maximize your harvests.

Putting the fungi to work

The Role of Mycorrhizal Fungi in Enhancing Plant Health and Yield | Vego Garden

So, how do you go about inviting mycorrhizal fungi to colonize in your garden?

Well, they may already be there. Mycorrhizal fungi are naturally present in healthy soils. By avoiding the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and fungicides, which can interfere with colonization, you can help promote their growth in your garden.

That said, you can also buy mycorrhizal fungi in a bag at a nursery or store.

“To encourage colonization, mix it into your soil while you’re transplanting plants into your garden or sizing up your plants into a pot,” Fiene said. “It can also be used while planting your seeds in a seedling tray.”

In addition to adding the fungi to soil, you can apply it directly to your plants’ roots, she added.

“Every time you pull a plant out of a pot," Fiene said,  you can dip the roots in the mycorrhizal."

Taking the time to encourage mycorrhizal fungi colonization in your garden is worth the effort. It never hurts to have a superhero on your side.

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