A mycorrhiza is a special beneficial relationship between a fungi and the root of a plant. The name comes from myco (meaning fungi) and rhiza (meaning root). The fungi which form this association are known as mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi receive sugars from the plant and in exchange search out water and nutrients such as nitrogen and zinc to pass back to the plant. Mycorrhiza occur naturally, however normal gardening practices and the use of chemicals greatly reduces the amount present in soils.
Mycorrhizal Fungi and Your Garden
This relationship dates back hundreds of millions of years, with mycorrhiza visible in the fossil record. However it is only over the last two decades that gardeners have started to learn about the benefits of mycorrhizal fungi and how it can be used in the garden to aid establishment and help overcome problems such as replant sickness. It is now possible to buy mycorrhizal products which can be applied to roots at time of planting; when used the fungi rapidly form an association with the roots and spread out into the soil in search of water and nutrients. Widely featured in the national press, the use of mycorrhizal fungi in the garden was recently featured in an episode of BBC Gardener’s World where Monty Don used it when planting strawberries.
The only company currently producing mycorrhiza in the UK is Plantworks Ltd. Based in Kent, the company was founded in 2000 as a spin out from the University of Kent at Canterbury by a team of scientists looking to produce high quality inoculum for their research. Once a reliable method of production had been developed the product rootgrow was born.
rootgrow contains a high concentration of mycorrhizal particles on a mineral carrier. It was launched into the gardening market in the early 2000’s and is now available at garden centres across the UK and even abroad. One of the first things rootgrow was found to help with was rose replant sickness - the phenomenon where roses planted in a bed where roses have previously been grown sicken and die. Growers found that if rootgrow was used mortality was significantly was reduced. The range has now expanded to include a variety of products under the Empathy banner with the aim of giving gardeners the option to garden naturally with biology rather than using harsh chemicals.
The full Empathy range is now stocked in garden centres throughout the UK
Plantworks employ a core team of scientists who come from a range of disciplines including mycology, bacteriology and plant sciences to carry out key research into mycorrhizal fungi. The team collaborate with major UK institutions including NIAB EMR, the University of Sheffield and Royal Holloway University to name but a few. Current projects are looking into ways in which mycorrhiza can provide benefits to horticulture and agriculture and the relationship between fungi and free living beneficial soil bacteria. Some of this work will feature in the following posts in this series.
If you would like to find out more about mycorrhizal fungi, rootgrow and the ways it can help in your garden why not visit your local garden centre and ask for rootgrow or check out www.rootgrow.co.uk .
Helen Thomas divides her time between sales and research at Plantworks ltd. She has a degree in Biological Sciences and Master of Philosophy in Chemical Ecology and is passionate about improving plants while reducing fertiliser and pesticide use.