Mycorrhizae: Urban Gardeners’ Secret Weapon for Bigger and Better Plant Yield

28 Jan

For many of us urban gardeners, we have one thing in common that limits us: SPACE. As a gardener in a large city, I feel like my progress is almost defined by the square feet that I have at my planting disposal.

Urban Garden Deck

For example: During the summer months, I have to decide if I want to grow tomatoes in the larger bed, or do I want to grow Basil…or something along those lines. Both require a bunch of sun and a fair amount of water to do well. If I had a farm, then this wouldn’t even be an issue. I would grow everything!

Urban Garden Close-Up

However, being smack in the middle of Los Angeles…well…presents some botanical challenges.

The Concrete Jungle

This is when the urban gardener needs to shift from the amount of resources…to the amount of resourcefulness. While we may not be able to create more space, I’m going to show you how to get the maximum effect from the plants that you do grow. It’s all in the dirt..well, something that’s in the dirty anyways.

I’m talking about Mycorrhizae.

Mycorrhizae Mycelia

Mychorrhizae is a symbiotic (beneficial) fungus that dwells in certain soils throughout the world. The fungus, itself, attaches to the roots of the plant and compliments the root system by growing ultra small hair-like structures called mycelia.

Mycelia CloseupWhat this essentially means for you, the gardener, is the plants that have been inoculated (exposed) to these fungi are prone to a great deal of benefits, to name a few:

  • Due to the ultra-small mycelia produced by the fungus, plant roots have a much larger surface area to suck up water in the soil. Think of it as a ‘super-root’.
  • Also, these mycelia have the ability to uptake minerals that normal plant roots can’t do as efficiently. This is done by the release of powerful enzymes that break down target nutrients. This leads to increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus intake.
  • Since the plants now have a larger base to collect and harvest more water and nutrients, it comes as no surprise that the plant itself will be healthier and better suited to fight off disease and injury.
  • Similarly, since the root structure has been made larger, the plant is better adapted to climates that receive less moisture (yes, better drought tolerance)! I know that this is personally a challenge for myself, since LA can get really hot and dry during the summer months.
  • Finally, If you have a plant that receives more nutrients and more water than the surrounding flora, its a no-brainer that you yield is going to be much higher than it would normally be. There have been several studies conducted to show the difference in size growth, and let me tell you, it can be pretty dramatic..

Mycorrhizae Comparison 1

Mycorrhizae Comparison 2

Now let me elaborate, and tell you that there are MANY types of Mycorrhizae out there. Some are better suited for some situation than for others. However, there are some more generalized and commercially available products that contain a mix of fungus. This makes it easier on you (the gardener) by offering a product that you can instantly use without having to be a master in the subject.

To simplify things, Mycorrhizae can be broken up into roughly two categories: Endomycorrhizae and Ectomycorrhizae. Now before I lose anyone, let me just point out that the main difference between the two is how they attach to the root. One covers the entire root in a protective sheath while the other one simply has hair-like extensions connecting to the root. Both essentially provide the same kind if benefits.

If you would like to get into the specifics on what each fungus looks like and how it behaves, then there are many sites that can show you in complex detail. Wikipedia has a rather nice summary of the two types. However, we here are concerned it how to use it, so lets jump right to it.

Mycorrhizae comes in a few different styles and sizes. There are dried canisters that have either a powder or granular form of the fungus. There is also a liquid version that you can directly apply to the roots. Other types even come in bio-degradable teabags that can be inserted into the soil next to the root wad, simplifying the process further.

Depending on how much you have to plant or how often you do maintenance on your garden will tell you what your best options are.

Now, since the urban gardener typically has less space to deal with, I would go with a medium sized bag of powdered mycorrhizae. The powdered formulas are very stable and can have a shelf life of up to 2 years. This allows you to get more use out of the product over time without the mycorrhizae dying out.

Also, since we grow so many different kinds of fruits, vegetables, flowers, etc. I would go for an all-purpose broad type of mycorrhizal product. This means getting a brand that includes many different species and types of mycorrhizal fungi.

An excellent example is Great White Premium Mycorrhizae. This particular product comes in powder for and contains 8 endomycorrhizal species as well as 7 ectomycorrhizal species. This gives you a well rounded fungi population to make sure that your plant has the best chance to thrive. (Affiliate Link Below)


Great White Mycorrhizae 8 oz: J

This formulation also hosts 11 species of beneficial Bacteria and a slow-release organic fertilizer, which will ensure that both your plant as well as the fungi are being fed the proper nutrients.

In short, I would recommend something along these lines, because it meets the criterion for a good mycorrhizal product. Generally speaking, here’s what you should be looking for:

1.  A stable product (avoid products that need refrigeration). Stick with powders, granular, or liquids that can survive changing temperatures.

2. Certified organic…no harmful pathogens to contaminate or damage your harvest or the people eating it. Safety first people.

3. Look at the shelf life/expiration date. A long shelf life ensures that you get the product that you’re paying for…even a few seasons down the road..

4. High spore count and mixtures of multiple species and types. To ensure that you have a working product, there should be a concentrated amount of spores to thrive in the soil. Also, having multiple species, gives you the best of each one, resulting In a more robust blend.

5. Operates well under different temperatures and conditions. Not all of us live in paradise or sunny wonderlands.

6. Buy from an established and trusted company. Theres nothing worse than being conned by a imitation company selling a garbage product.

After you have followed the advice given here, you should be ready to apply and experiment to find what works best for you. A garden mixed with mycorrhizae stands a great chance for producing a mind-blowing yield for your next round of plants. So next time you look at your little plot of land…do not despair. You now have a secret weapon at your disposal, and its buried right in front of you.

I hope that you have enjoyed this article as much as I have creating it. If you have any questions about this post, feel free to shoot me a comment in the section below.Thanks again for stopping by and come back again for more ‘upon further inspection’


5 thoughts on “Mycorrhizae: Urban Gardeners’ Secret Weapon for Bigger and Better Plant Yield

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