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Fantastic Fungi: The Unsung Garden Heroes

Once a mysterious, niche and nerdy subject is now the talk of mainstream media. I’m speaking of course of fungi! The symbiotic relationship between the fungi and animal kingdoms are a hot topic in health and wellness, but the third - sometimes overlooked - pillar in this trifecta is the plant kingdom. Fungi and plants depend on each other, so fungi are crucial to the success of our gardening endeavors. Much is still mysterious in the science behind this kingdom of organisms, which just adds to their magic.

First, let's clear something up... mushrooms are a type of fungus, but not all fungi produce mushrooms. The fungi kingdom includes a wide range of organisms, such as yeasts, molds, and lichens, in addition to mushrooms. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of some types of fungi, which means they produce spores that can grow into new fungal organisms. So, while all mushrooms are fungi, not all fungi are mushrooms.

Mycelium is the amazing underground web of root-like fungal threads that helps plants absorb nutrients and communicate with other plants. The term “living soil” means that soil teems with fungi, bacteria, bugs, and worms, which means its nutrients, sugar and water are more easily shared. A nutrient-dense, busy underground world makes for healthy plants, lush crops of flowers and a fruitful harvest.

Here are a few ways fungi can be beneficial for plants in your garden:

Mycorrhizal Fungi Associations

Many fungi form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, forming mycorrhizal associations. In these relationships, the fungus colonizes the roots of the plant and helps it to absorb nutrients from the soil, such as phosphorus, zinc, and other micronutrients. In exchange, the plant provides the fungus with sugars and other organic compounds produced through photosynthesis.

Decomposition of Organic Matter

Fungi are important decomposers of dead plant material and contribute to the breakdown of organic matter in the soil. This process releases nutrients back into the soil, making the nutrients available for plants to utilize.  

Disease Suppression

Some fungi are known to suppress soil-borne plant pathogens, such as certain types of nematodes, by parasitizing them or competing with them for resources.

Soil Structure

Fungi can also help to improve soil structure by producing polysaccharides and other substances that help to bind soil particles together, creating a more stable soil structure. This can improve water retention and aeration in the soil, which can benefit plant growth.

How to Increase Fungal Mycelium in Soil

Amending your soil with Magic Mushroom Compost will help it to foster beneficial bacteria and fungal mycelium in your garden. Other things you can do to increase fungal mycelium include:

  1. Avoid Disturbing the Soil
    Fungi are sensitive to disturbance, so tilling or digging can damage the mycelial network. Instead, try to avoid disturbing the soil and use no-till methods if possible. No-till farming is a fast-growing movement in the field of regenerative agriculture and is also referred to as zero tillage or direct drilling.
  2. Plant Cover Crops
    Certain cover crops, such as clover and rye, can encourage fungal growth in the soil. These crops are planted in the off season or as part of a sustainable crop rotation plan. Cover crops have many benefits including suppressing weeds, improving soil fertility and soil quality, preventing soil erosion, and attracting beneficial insects and pollinators to your garden.  
  3. Use Fungal Inoculants
    Certain types of fungi can be added to the soil as inoculants to increase their populations. These can be purchased as commercial products or sourced from healthy, fungal-rich soil in your area.