Why mycorrhizal fungi are the next frontier for organic gardening in the UK

Think for a moment about what makes soil actually soil. The ground everywhere is, in the end, stone that has been grounded to dust, producing a thousand different compositions of slit, sand and clay. But what makes ground actually become thriving, fertile soil? It’s not just the addition of nutrients or organic matter, because nutrients and organic matter stay the same unless they are broken down and used by organisms. In the end, only life breeds life. And only a livingsoil breeds plants as fertile soil is supposed to do.

In that order of things, every day new research comes up on the importance of one of the organisms that inhabit any healthy soil: mycorrhizal fungi. These root-dwelling fungi (mycorrhizal literally means that, ‘root fungi’) form a group of thousands of species that have, basically, found a way to profit from being near plants while benefiting the plants that host them. You may ask: how do they do this? Well:

  • Unlike other species of fungi (like the much-dreaded honey fungus, for example), these actually help the plants that they live upon to grow better and absorb more nutrients, while they feed on the excess sugars that plants make as a by-product of their own internal processes.
  • In short, mycorrhizal fungi are much like our own intestinal flora. They make sure that ‘plant food’ (the nutrients that they need: potassium, iron, phosphorus, nitrogen, etc.) is actually absorbed and digested appropriately by the plants.
  • This is part of the natural way in which plant roots feed, and actually one of the most important advantages of organic fertilizers and one of the greatest differences between organic and inorganic fertilizers, as organic fertilizers respect and stimulate the growth of mycorrhizal fungi. Using non-organic fertilizers to feed plants actually harms mycorrhizal fungi (alongside most other microorganisms), and is the equivalent of trying to feed ourselves entirely using multivitamins and food supplements. Ask any doctor if he or she thinks that three or four pills can replace a normal, healthy meal, and the answer will always be negative.
Roots showing almost microscopic mycorrhizal fungi growing on them.
See the white dust covering these root tips? That's the fungi!

But not only they help the plants to better process the nutrients taken by their roots: mycorrhizal fungi actually make their roots reach farther and deeper into the earth.

  • These fungi form a mycelium around the plant’s roots that keeps growing past beyond them, and collects nutrients from soil that the roots haven’t reached yet, only to bring those nutrients back to the roots themselves to stimulate their production of sugars for the fungus.
  • This means that plants grow quicker, healthier and more productive when they team up with mycorrhizal fungi. They also grow stronger, since the increased area covered by their roots (through their connection with the mycelium) gives them more access to water and nutrients; making them less susceptible to drought and erosion.

Potted pine tree roots showing a large mycelium network of mycorrhizal fungi.

Not every mycorrhizal network looks like this: some fungi are so small that you can hardly see them. But these pine roots covered with ectomycorrhizal fungi (a type of these) give you a good impression of how much extra surface is covered by the mycelium that begins in the roots.

So, mycorrhizal fungi are wonderful. Great. Now what? How do you get them on your soil, helping your plants and helping you?

That’s the big question. It’s also where most gardeners become disappointed, since there has been, until now, an important difficulty in accessing mycorrhizal fungi. If you are lucky enough and are growing plants in a soil that has not been bombarded with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, you might actually have some mycorrhizal fungi growing right now in and on your plant’s roots. But for most of us common folk, the best chance we have is to import these fungi and plant them in our soil alongside our plants, and then make sure that the fungi stay with us for good.
  • Until now, as we were saying before, it has been difficult to find these mycorrhizal fungi here in the UK since only one company has been producing and selling these fungi, and, as with every monopoly, the result of this is that not many people can afford their prices or are not able to access the specific stores where their products are sold.
  • Fortunately, us here at Grow Mate we have been introducing mycorrhizal fungi as part of our Rootmax root enhancer, which is specifically designed to stimulate root growth, health and efficiency in absorbing nutrients. It is also a perfect match for our entirely organic fertilizers, which preserve the precious mycorrhizal fungi and stimulate their growth. The beauty of working with a living, thriving soil is this, after all; that once it truly becomes alive, the only thing that you have to do is protect it while the myriad biological processes that make it fertile take place on their own. And, as we have said, one of the greatest advantages of organic fertilisers is that they enable precisely this:

So, try out our Rootmax root enhancer the next time you introduce a new plant in your soil, and keep your eyes open for the increased, stable benefits and advantages that working with nature, instead of against her, brings to the smart gardener.

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