How your local Isle of Wight Gardener uses Mycorrhizal Fungi and WHY?

How your local Isle of Wight Gardener uses Mycorrhizal Fungi and WHY?

Say it with me: my-corr-hi-zal. 

Pretty fun name, isn’t it? More than just a combination of excellent syllables, mycorrhizal fungi are, despite being around for yonks, at the cutting edge of sustainable gardening research. In this blog, we’ll be digging beneath the soil to discover what my new favourite fungi friends can do for biodiversity, why they can revolutionise the way we grow and how they can help enrich your garden. 

This is an image of a gardener adding mycorrhizal fungi whilst potting a plant
Mycorrhizal fungi can be added directly to the plant and surrounding soil to help growth.

What are Mycorrhizal Fungi?

Mycorrhizal fungi are a type of fungi that live in the soil, forming symbiotic relationships between themselves and a tree’s root network. Mycorrhizal fungi help trees to absorb nutrients from the surrounding soil, offering the tree the building blocks for life that they would otherwise be unable to gather effectively.”

Mycorrhizal roots are so valued by the tree, they’re often rewarded with up to a third of the food trees produce from photosynthesis. Now, that’s pretty amazing – fungi helping trees to grow and vice versa – but it’s about to get a whole lot… stranger.

This is an image of a plant's roots to show how they interract with mycorrhizal fungi
Image courtesy of Garden Organic

Mycorrhizal networks connect a tree’s roots to the soil, true enough, but they also connect the roots of different trees in long mycelium networks. In fact, these networks are so long, the total length of all mycorrhizal networks in the top 10 cm of the world’s soil is 450 quadrillion kilometres, that’s around half the width of our galaxy. And it’s not just nutrients which mycorrhizal networks transmit. Oh no. It’s messages, too. (Bear with me). 

Science has shown that with Acacia trees in Africa, trees can sense if they’re under attack from a predator such as a Giraffe eating its leaves, and transmit messages through their roots, through the mycorrhizal fungi network, and to neighbouring trees. They’ll tell their arboreal family to produce a bitter-tasting tannin that makes them undesirable to predators. The same thing happens to native UK species such as Oaks when an insect munches its leaves. 

And you thought trees were solitary beings! They’re as social as ants, bees, and Friday nights at the Crown & Anchor.

This is an image of a gardener adding mycorrhizal fungi whilst potting a plant
Adding the helpful fungi directly to the root netwok

How does C.A.R. Gardens use mycorrhizal fungi in gardening on the Isle of Wight?

Clearly, then, these magical fungi can have huge benefits for gardening here on the Isle of Wight. If they can help wild trees and shrubs, they can definitely help domesticated ones, too. 

In fact, it may well be particularly important to give newly planted shrubs, plants and trees a helping hand. In the wild, trees grow where the seed falls (or is buried and forgotten by a rascally squirrel) and have far longer to establish effective mycorrhizal networks than us plonking a sapling in a newly landscaped garden. By adding a dose of these friendly fungi, we’re helping to jump-start this naturally cooperative relationship for the betterment of soil, tree and garden health. 

And just how do we do this? What we’ll do is add a scoop of Rootgrow at the time of planting. It’s important the fungi inoculation makes contact with the roots of the plants and then just go ahead and plant as usual. Tip: Keep the plant above the hole whilst adding the fungi and you’ll waste less. In 2-4 weeks after planting the mycorrhizal fungi can increase the active root area of plants by up to 700 times. That’s got to be a wise investment!

It’s important to remember what we said earlier on, that mycorrhizal fungi are a type of fungi. That means you can’t just yank a load from the earth (although that is where they’ll be!), they have to be specially collected and cultivated so that we’re adding the best fungal partners for your tree or shrub. We use Empathy RootGrow Professional endorsed by the RHS (see below). 

Also, unlike conventional fertilisers – which effectively poison the soil by saturating it with specific nutrients – mycorrhizal fungi are biodiversity partners. Their association with trees is as old as the hills (and possibly older). 

I’d love to chat more, about everything from mycorrhizal fungi to your next gardening project. Click here to reach out, or hit the button below.

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