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Connecticut Garden Journal: Soil fungus is part of a healthy plant ecosystem

healthy soil
Roman Synkevych

More and more researchers are finding our soil is a dynamic, diverse place loaded with microbes. It's estimated one teaspoon of healthy soil can hold more than a billion microorganisms. That's amazing! These bacteria, fungi, protozoa and other creatures are living and thriving for themselves, and working to help our plants grow.

Probably most common of these soil microbes is mycorrhizae fungus. This fungus forms a symbiotic relationship with plant roots helping the flow of water and nutrients to the plant. The plants exude sugars and other substances that help the soil biome stay healthy and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, reducing the impact of global warming.

We mostly don't see these microbes, but mycorrhizae forms extensive tiny roots or hyphae throughout the ground connecting plants to each other. You may see this hyphae if you dig a little in a healthy forest soil. Not only does hyphae share water and nutrients between plants it helps plants communicate with each other concerning pest attacks and young plants in need. This all creates a healthy ecosystem where plants and creatures thrive.

We can use this same soil magic in our gardens by following a few steps. First, avoid tilling the soil. Tilling destroys many microbes and the soil will be slow to recover. Feed your soil with bioactive compost. This means compost that's loaded with microbes to help your plants grow. While you'll see mycorrhizae as an additive in soil mix bags, it's unclear if this really helps our plants. But given the choice, why not try using it. It certainly won't hurt the plants.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.