Are you connected to Earth’s Natural Internet?


Are you connected to Earth’s Natural Internet?

By Bob Dailey

There is a fungus which grows in the soil on and around plant roots that is absolutely essential for plant health. In fact, this fungus is so important that some plant species cannot exist without it. Named mycorrhiza, which literally means “root fungus,” this organism creates a symbiotic relationship with plants. The amazing properties of this root fungus has prompted scientists to call it “Earth’s natural internet.”

If one digs into leaf mold, or into really good soil, tiny white filaments resembling spider webs can be seen spreading through the soil or leaves. This is mycorrhiza. Though deceptively small, a teaspoon of good soil can have eight or nine feet of the tiny strings.

Mycorrhizal fungi create a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, taking in minerals from the soil and delivering it to the plant, in exchange for sugars produced by the plant. Plant biologists have estimated that 95 percent of the plants investigated are either partially or completely dependent on these fungi- a testament to their importance. Orchids, for instance, are so dependent on mycorrhiza that even their seeds cannot germinate without it.

Once attached to plant roots, this fungus sends out tiny threads which extend out much further than the roots can extend.  Though they look like plant roots, these white filaments are what absorb nutrients. Since they have a great deal more range than the plant roots themselves and have significantly more surface area, they are able to find and take in significantly more water and nutrients than the plant roots can. Scientists have also discovered that mycorrhiza can store up nitrogen when it is plentiful, and then release it to the plant when there is a lack of nitrogen in the soil.  These fungi can also store water, which it releases to the plant in times of drought.

Plants that are not aided by these fungi may not be able to take up important nutrients such as phosphate or iron – which can lead to iron chlorosis or other plant deficiencies. Mycorrhiza can also play a protective role for plants in soils with high heavy metal concentrations, such as acidic or contaminated soils. These fungi are also suited for colonization of barren soils.

Soil-borne diseases (such as take-all patch and brown patch) are also serious problems for plants. Unfortunately, many residents are quick to apply fungicides at first signs of take-all or brown patch. While these fungicides will kill the bad fungi, it will also kill the mycorrhiza. A better method may be to inoculate the lawn with organic material that has high concentrations of mycorrhiza.

Studies are showing that plants colonized by mycorrhizal fungi are much more resistant to these and other diseases.  Scientists have also now determined that mycorrhizal fungi can also transport nutrients and water from plant to plant through extensive underground networks.

Operations like tilling can also kill mycorrhiza, although aeration prior to adding organic matter will do relatively little damage to it.  For floral or vegetable gardeners, many experts are recommending “no-till” methods.

Soil: The Living Lawyer of Earth


The soil in your garden and landscape should be a living layer of earth. That’s not a platitude – it’s a fact. It should be packed with microbes. A teaspoon of good soil should contain literally billions of beneficial bacteria, thousands of protozoans, and miles of micorrhizal fungi. Billions of bacteria and miles of fungi? In a teaspoon? It may sound like fiction, but it’s true…if you have good soil!

These organisms and larger life such as earthworms create a soil food web, devouring small bits of organic matter in the soil, converting it into nutrients. Plant roots can then take in those nutrients to produce leaves, stems, flowers, fruit and seed. Good healthy plants can fend off disease and destructive insects. The absence of these microorganisms and larger organisms such earthworms, result in compacted, lifeless soil. Lifeless soil, of course, cannot sustain life.

A recent non-scientific study in one Montgomery County community not only indicated that “take-all patch” was common in the sampling, but that all the lawns tested had compacted soil. In fact, a sampling trowel broke during the testing because the soil was so hard.

Solving the compacted soil problem

The absolute best way to give your soil life again is to simply add organic material. You don’t need complicated chemicals and fertilizers. You don’t need “inoculants.” You don’t need humates. All you need is simple organic compost. Organic compost contains all the microorganisms needed to inoculate soil, and also contains nutrient-rich material which will not only decompose slowly, but will also feed all the tiny animals in the soil. Here are some typical ways to bring your soil back to life with microorganisms.

Lawns

Spread organic compost evenly throughout the yard about ¾ inch deep. If you can’t do it yourself, hire a landscape crew to do it. Many of them will also pick up the compost for you as well, if you pay for it beforehand. After spreading, if you feel it looks unsightly, hose it down into the lawn or take a broom and sweep it down.

Do this twice a year – once in the mid fall around the end of October or beginning of November. Add it again about mid-April. These are optimum times to compost your lawn. However, compost can be spread on turf anytime.

If you’ve got St. Augustine grass, compost is about all you’ll need. You don’t need to dethatch. If you mulch your grass clippings, you probably don’t need to fertilize. If you’ve got weeds, you don’t need herbicides either. In fact, man fertilizers and herbicides actually kill soil organisms. St. Augustine grass is so aggressive and responds so readily to the microbial-rich compost that in a matter of months it will force out most, if not all, weeds. With a high level of microbes in the soil, the grass will develop deep roots and will become more resistant to insect and disease damage.

For Landscape Plants

Spread compost two to three inches deep around plants about a two foot radius for shrubs and less for perennial flowers. For beds, spread evenly the same depth. Again, herbicides and pesticides are not necessary and can actually harm the soil organisms. Spread compost two to three inches deep around plants about a two foot radius for shrubs and less for perennial flowers. Trees generally do not need to be composted.

For vegetable gardens

Spread six inches of organic compost six to eight inches deep throughout the garden. Then either mix it into the soil below or simply leave it on top and set plants in it.

Remember that compost is not mulch. They have two completely different purposes. Compost enriches the soil, and feeds all the organisms beneath the surface. It is made of fine particles of decomposed organic material, generally what will fit through a 3/8 inch screen.

Many gardeners make their own compost. However, they find they never have enough homemade compost, so they purchase more from a reputable compost provider. In order to find a compost operation near you, see this website: findacomposter.com.