What are Mychorrhizal Fungi? “Mycor” – “rhiza” literally means “fungus” – “root” and defines the mutually beneficial relationship between the plant root and fungus. These specialized fungi colonize plant roots and extend far into the soil resource. Mycorrhizal fungal filaments in the soil are truly extensions of root systems and more effective in nutrient and water absorption than the roots themselves.
How can Mychorrhizae increase plant available nutrition? These fungi increase the surface absorbing area of roots 100 to 1,000 times thereby greatly improving the ability of the plants to utilize the soil resource. Estimates of amounts of mycorrhizal filaments present in soil associated with plants are astonishing. Several miles of fungal filaments can be present in less than a thimbleful of soil! But mycorrhizal fungi increase nutrient uptake not only by increase the surface absorbing area of roots, they also release powerful chemicals into the soil that dissolve hard to capture nutrients such as phosphorous , iron and other “tightly bound” soil nutrients. This extraction process is particularly important in plant nutrition and explains why non-mycorrhizal plants require high levels of fertility to maintain their health.
How do Mychorrhizal Fungi help “build” soils? The same extensive network of fungal filaments important to nutrient uptake is also important in water uptake and storage. In non-irrigated conditions, mycorrhizal plants are under far less drought stress compared to non-mycorrhizal plants. Mycorrhizal fungi also improve soil structure. Mycorrhizal filaments produce humic compounds and organic “glues” that bind soils into aggregates and improves soil porosity. Soil porosity and soil structure positively influence the growth of plants by promoting aeration, water movement into soil, root growth, and distribution. In sandy or compacted soils the ability of mycorrhizal fungi to promote soil structure may be more important than the seeking out nutrients.
Why should I reduce my P fertilizer application when using Mycorrhizae Fungi? High rates of applied P fertilizers will essentially make the mycorrhizal fungi lazy. If the plant isn’t signaling to mycorrhizal fungi that it needs P, and no root exudates are pushed out of the root system to feed the fungi, the symbiotic relationship between plant and mycorrhizal fungi won’t be maximized.
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