Mycorrhizae and fertilizers

Desert Dweller

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I have recently done some repotting and noticed fairly weak root development in some of my trees. I have been using a fairly loose 70/30% mix of Haydite and bark. I believed that this loose mixture would promote better root growth.

As a result I have been researching the importance of micorrhizae fungi in overall plant health and vitality. I am aware through much of the literature the importance of this biological component to the health of Pines. I did not notice any of this biological activity in any of my plants though I do include original soil in my repotting. Many sources for the innoculants mention using low number organic fertilizers. I have been using chemical fertilizers on my trees for several years.

I am curious what may be the experience of others working with bonsai to cultivating mycorrhizae in their plants while using loose mixtures. Has anyone been using any of the innoculants with much success and what sort of fertilizer they are using.

I have tried some organic type fertilizers (powdery) which tend to just clog the system up when used at the recommended proportions. I am also concerned that my dog will consider the fertilizer cake types as tasty tidbits. I have not found much for liquid organics beyond fish emulsion (5-1-1) which my dog also loves. To top things off, I live in a pretty "bonsai hostile" environment which I have largely learned to overcome.

Looking for any experiences and recomendations.
 

Glider

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I have used mycorrhyzal innnoculant with good results (I only used it once and use old soils and root clippings to re-innoculate when repotting). Mycorrhyzae tend to thrive under marginal conditions; loose soils with low levels of nutirents. The innoculant powder usually contains other microoganisms too; soil bacteria and so-on.

I use straight akadama, and the pots my pines are in are packed with mycorrhizal hyphae. You can see it if you scratch the surface. The deciduous trees have also been innoculated, but it's endomycorrhiza that tends to accosiate with them, so it's invisible (although I do get small mushrooms in the pots in autumn, which is a good clue). All the trees are doing very well.

The thing is with feeding is that chemical feeds tend to inhibit mycorrhyzal growth (yes, I know all feeds are chemical, ultimately). The application of salts in solution is less conducive to mycorrhyzal growth than the application of organics that need to be broken down and fixed by soil bacteria and taken up by the fungus.

Organic fertilizers that need to be broken down encourage a healthy soil ecosystem, where bacteria, fungus and roots all work together. The application of fertilizer salts is just a way of getting necessary elements to the tree roots in a form that can be taken up by the tree straight away.

For a good organic fetrtilizer, I would suggest biogold. My cat (and local squirrels) used to love the fertilizer cakes I used to use (rapemeal and whatever). Biogold has been pre-fermented so (evedntly) it smells less like food and the cats and squirrels ingore it. I would imagine your dog would do the same.

I use biogold from February to October to feed the soil. I also use maxicrop (a liquid seaweed extract) once a week, which also encourages a healthy soil ecosystem. I use miracle grow (chemical fertilizer) as a foliar fertilizer every other week, and as a soil drench only about once a month. The soil, mycorrhyza and trees are all doing extremely well. Even though the trees are in pure akadama, every time I water I can smell the rich organic smell of a good soil system (it's a really nice earthy smell).

Your 'bonsai hostile' environment is perfect for mycorrhiza and it is mycorrhyza that will help buffer your trees against that environment. If I were you, I would concentrate on getting a healthy soil ecosystem going using organics (if I could). it is true that trees will grow in broken glass as long as they get enough water and nutrients, but a healthy soil system around the roots really helps the tree to tolerate more marginal conditions and changes to those conditions.
 

subnet_rx

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Hmm, I've done a lot of reading about this and I thought mycorrhizae was not necessarily a good thing for bonsai. Why? Because they break down organic components in the soil, therefore clogging it up. I've thought about going strictly organic, but I just cannot find many people that promote doing that. Now, anything in the ground, I try to go all organic.
 

Tachigi

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I use mushroom soil for my field grown trees as a soil amendment in our hard baked clay environment. Mushroom soil as the name would indicate is loaded with mycorrhizae. So between the mushroom soil and clay a perfect environment has been created for growth. If you tick your hand into the soil and turn it over it is loaded with mycorrhizae. So much that you'd swear I used perlite as well.

Dweller if you haven't read this article in your research you might find it interesting
 

Rick Moquin

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Hmm, I've done a lot of reading about this and I thought mycorrhizae was not necessarily a good thing for bonsai. Why? Because they break down organic components in the soil, therefore clogging it up. I've thought about going strictly organic, but I just cannot find many people that promote doing that. Now, anything in the ground, I try to go all organic.
Care to point out the sources of such lecture? From everything I know it is the exact opposite. As a matter of fact all my trees are inoculated with "Myke" and I have seen the difference with and without.
 

subnet_rx

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Here's the last one I remember reading, but I don't normally bookmark everything when I do research on something to come to a decision about it.

Personally, I don't care if someone uses an organic or inorganic (chemical) based fertilizer. I maintain that they ultimately do the same thing, provide the plant with the essential elements. I am not trying to get anyone to give up using organic fertilizers. I do try to dispel the belief that organic fertilizers are far superior in the totally artificial system of bonsai. If we were talking about organic gardening, I would have to agree with the organic school of thought, since organic fertilizers in that system also do wonders for the structure of the soil and the ecology of the microorganisms. In bonsai, this is artificially manipulated, and in fact we try hard not to have the organic portions of the soil degrade (compost) , which causes soil collapse and poor drainage. Additionally, we often drench the soil with fungicides which will kill many of the beneficial microorganisms as well as the pathogens.
http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/fertiliz.htm
 

Desert Dweller

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Hey Glider - Thanks for the response. I have purchased some of the Biogold and will be trying it and watching the dog with an eagle eye until I am sure he will leave it alone. I have usually used the chemicals diluted but frequently. I have wanted to keep the salts in the soil down especially during the early parts of the summer since I am using hose water (pH of 7.2-7.4). I usually collect rain water once the monsoon season starts (July) and use that for watering. I have purchased a granular innoculant consisting of a blend of the endo and ecto species of mycorrhizea which should work for pines and deciduous trees. I believe I can sprinkle it on top, work it under the surface with a chopstick and the first watering will take it right to the root pad.

Tachigi- I have not seen that specific article (thanks for the share) but it encompasses much of what else I have read with the added benefit of bonsai orientation.

Subnet_rx- Thanks for bringing up Brents cautionary tale. I have minimal organics in an extremely fast flowing mixture.
 

Glider

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I have purchased a granular innoculant consisting of a blend of the endo and ecto species of mycorrhizea which should work for pines and deciduous trees. I believe I can sprinkle it on top, work it under the surface with a chopstick and the first watering will take it right to the root pad.
According to the instruction on the stuff I use, you can either do that (sprinkle and work in) or you can add a teaspoon of the powder to a litre of water, mix well and leave overnight. The following day, add another litre of water and the using a sprayer or watering can, water each tree with about a cupful of the solution. It says you have to use all the solution within 12 hours though.

The soaking hydrates the spores and the watering gets them immediately to the roots (where the chemistry around the growing root tips triggers the mycorrhizal growth). It's also cheaper, as one teaspoon will innoculate ~6 trees when applied that way.

The solution does tend to block the holes on a fine rose, so watering can be a bit frustrating (keep having to stop and shake the can to clear it), but you only have to do it once :) It only takes a very little to do the job, but it has to be in the right place; in direct contact with the growing root tips.
 
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riprap

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I try to germinate seeds under clean conditions. So at what point should my flat of little black pine seedlings be introduced to the mycorrhiza with which I want them to partner through their future life?
 
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I asked once the guys at plant health care who sell fungus inocula about the interest of mycorhizae for pine bonsai. I can't find the full answer but in short, they told me that mycorhiza was of little if any interest to most plants cultivated in pots and correctly fertilized.
 

Glider

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That's true. In ideal conditions (ideal levels of water, drainage, nutrients etc.), there's very little difference in the visible growth of trees with or without mycorrhizae.

However, in bonsai, the pots are a lot smaller than people would use for say, container gardening; the soil volume is comparatively tiny and there's no buffer against drying out. Also, in bonsai, the soils used are much more open and free draining and usually have much less by way of organic components (if any at all). For any tree, these are marginal conditions by definition.

Such conditions are perfect for mycorrhizal growth though, and the relationship between the fungi and the tree does help buffer the tree against changes in those conditions (e.g. drying out, which, in bonsai, can happen quite quickly). Mycorrhizal hyphae can colonise a pot much faster then the roots of a repotted tree and can also work their way into microscopic pores that roots can't, to reach water and nutrients and so make maximal use of limited soil volume.

There are many other benefits, for example, the hyphae also secrete polysaccharides which help to bind tiny soil particles together and stabilise the soil structure. Ectomycorrhiza has been shown to alter root physiology and increase fine root ramification. Mycorrhiza helps protect roots against soil pathogens, it helps buffer the tree against stress and it has been shown to help protects against disease.

I think the most compelling evidence is that the symbiotic relationship between fungi and higher plants has evolved in around 95% of all plants on earth. These are plants in the wild. It would seem logical to suppose that it would be of particular benefit to plants grown in the marginal conditions of bonsai pots and soils.
 

emorrin

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I have been thinking about using a mycorrhyzal innnoculant as well since I have switched over to all organic fertilizing. If you use a synthetic fertilizer then the salts will inhibit Mycorrhizal growth. I think they will still grow but not nearly as much as if you use organic fertilizers. It may not even be worth it if you only use synthetic fertilizers. One of the big problems though is if you use a fungicide, you basically kill the Mycorrhizal fungi as well. I guess one way around this is to cover the pot with plastic while spraying down the leaves with the fungicide being careful not to let it drip into the soil.
 
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