By David Wall, Mount Pleasant Master Gardener
Very often we hear about the benefits of mycorrhizae, but rarely understand what they are, how they help and how they do it. Basically, mycorrhizae support almost all vegetable plants except members of the brassica family (cabbage, lettuce, etc.).
Mycorrhizae are fungi, but more than that, beneficial fungi. These fungi attach themselves to the root system of your vegetables (including trees). They create threads by chaining together and, although microscopic, can span great distances – from two to several times the distance roots would normally span, greatly increasing the plant’s food opportunities. .
Your vegetables generate food (sugars) through photosynthesis, which is sent to the roots for storage and future food for the plant. Between 50% and more than 70% of this stored food is made available to the mycorrhizae which, in turn, deliver the nutrients collected from the soil to the roots. The result is a symbiotic relationship in which both benefit from the relationship.
BY FAR the best way to feed your plants is to feed the soil (mycorrhizae) and let the soil feed the plants. Using synthetic fertilizers shortens the process and feeds the plant directly. The result is weakened/degraded soil and the loss of most of the synthetic fertilizer due to leaching into the water table where they can begin their journey to the Gulf of Mexico.
The use of organic fertilizers directly feeds the mycorrhizae which then feed the plant. Plus, organic fertilizers degrade slowly enough for the mycorrhizae to pick up all the nutrients, leaving nothing for that long trip to the Gulf!
Every time you plow or break up the soil, you kill billions of mycorrhizae which then take a considerable time to rebuild, degrading their ability to feed the plant.