Composting, Gardening, Jorge, Plants

mycorrhizal fungi
A mycorrhizal fungus as viewed under the microscope. Picture credit: Dr. David Midgley (2007) licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Mycorrhizal fungi rootgrow has become a common feature of garden centres of late, and has been advertised as a product that can greatly boost your plant’s health. But does it really work? And when should I apply it?  Before delving into such questions, it would be worthwhile to explain what are mycorrhizas.

What are Mycorrhizae?

The etymology of Mycorrhiza comes from the Greek mykos “fungus” and riza “root”. And this is precisely what mycorrhizae is, a symbiotic relationship between fungi and plants. It occurs in nearly all plant life on land and is thus suspected of being one of the key factors that allowed plants to colonise the land.

The relationship is symbiotic as the fungi and plant provide one another with nutrients that each are maladapted to garner independently. It has its origin in the fact each are different types of organisms, with fungi being heterotrophic and plants autotrophic. Heterotrophs, such as humans, absorb their nutrients from organic sources, but can’t produce energy from inorganic sources. Autotrophs, on the other hand, can produce energy from inorganic sources such as sunlight. Plants do this through the process of photosynthesis that produces carbohydrates. As autotrophs, plants also find it difficult to absorb essential nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

endomycorrhizae
Mycorrhizal fungi located inside a flax root’s cortical cells as viewed under the microscope.

And this is where the fungi come in. The fungi that can easily absorb such nutrients interacts with the plant’s root system, which the plant willingly allows, providing such nutrients in return for the carbohydrates that itself cannot produce.  It does this through expanding its roots’ surface area that can absorb nutrients and water. They also provide the additional benefit of increasing a plant’s resistance to pathogens, preventing root disease.

As a side-note, the mycorrhizas were once divided into broad groupings, the ecto (outside) and endo (inside) varieties, with the former (usually) coating the root cells and the latter intermeshing into the plant root cells; although today they have been divided into new sub-categories or superseded with new typings. The endo varieties are difficult to spot, while the ecto varieties presence may be hinted at with the appearance of toadstools, or coated, oddly-branched roots.

The Leccinum aurantiacum – an ecto variety of mycorrhizal fungus. Picture Credit: Tomas Čekanavičius (2006)  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Do I Need to use Mycorrhizal Rootgrow?

It is suspected that neither fungi nor plants could survive in many situations without such a relationship. Mycorrhizas is fairly ubiquitous throughout the soil, and can infect a wide range of plants, so it is highly probable that suitable plants will become infected in their lifetime. There may be some exceptions to this, such as heavily cultivated soil and isolated rocky outcrops, but more on this later.

Scientifically, there is little evidence supporting the use of mycorrhiza rootgrow. The British Standards Institution, which produce technical standards on an array of products, does not recommend using the rootgrow for planting trees as a matter of routine. At Texas A & M University, a team grew plants in soils with and without mycorrhizas and found that the infected plants grew slightly better at the planting-out stage, although any advantage disappeared completely after two seasons in the ground. This was because all the plants ended up infected with mycorrhizas anyway. Finally, a test by Which? Magazine found that the potting compost brand that contained mycorrhizas performed poorly, although such an outcome may be down to other factors.

So are mycorrhizas products any good at all? In all probability mycorrhizas products will be unlikely to confer any long term benefits to your plants, unless you have good reason to suspect that your soil is deficient in mycorrhizas. (It is important to check that your plant can benefit from mycorrhizas in the first place.)

Heavy use of phosphorus in agriculture reduces the incidence of mycorrhiza in the soil. The element is also used to ignite matches.

As already stated, heavily cultivated ground may reduce the occurrence of mycorrhizas. This is because fungicide is naturally destructive to fungi, although, interestingly, it is phosphorus-rich soil that is especially detrimental to mycorrhizas. Mycorrhizas usually function to gather this rare resource for plants, but an abundance of it, usually created by fertiliser, actually suppresses it. Why this is the case is unclear, although it can be in a sense expected, as messing with the ecosystem can have untold effects. Sadly, in this case using mycorrhizas rootgrow is unlikely to have any effect, as if the soil is not conducive to mycorrhizas, the best option will be to stop using phosphorus rich fertilizers, and wait for the mycorrhizas to return naturally.

There may be reason to use mycorrhizas in some cases, perhaps for isolated plants, and plants that are indoors (although such cases are unlikely to be common).

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Composting, Garden Tools, Gardening, How To, Plants, Weeding, Zoe

There are mixed opinions about whether you should bother to sterilise your compost. Some gardeners choose not to, which is fine, but we believe there are many benefits to this very simple process:

  1. It kills off harmful bacteriaSome may argue that in turn you will be killing useful bacteria but this is not the case. The only way you will kill of beneficial bacteria is by baking your soil at a temperature that is too high; we talk about this in more detail later. Professional nurseries sterilise their compost, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t either.
  2. It’s proven to keep away pests such as thrips that are particularly annoying when using compost in your home and sterilisation can prevent such unwanted house guests.
  3. Prevention is the solution. Prevent disease in your compost before the problems arise, rather than skipping past the sterilisation stage and then making the situation a lot worse later on.
  4. Sterilised soil ensures that your plant will be happy and healthy, and this means the best optimal growth.
  5. Better safe than sorry. The methods outlined in this blog are super easy to do, and will make sure your compost is definitely safe for your plants. So why wouldn’t you want to give it a go?

    Making Compost

    Outlined here are three easy methods to sterilise your compost from your home:

     

    Oven

    Using your oven at home you can sterilise your compost easily; be warned that baking compost can create a smelly odour, so you may wish to open your windows whilst doing this.

    • Firstly, you need to use moist soil, do not over water the soil however you only want a slight dampness.
    • Use an oven safe tray and fill it with your soil until it is around 10 cm (4 inches) deep.
    • Cover the tray loosely with foil.
    • Put your tray in the middle of a pre-heated oven that’s around 80° For a more accurate result use a thermometer in the centre of the tray and bake between 80-90°c
    • Do not exceed the temperatures stated above, at temperatures above 90°c is when the good bacteria is killed and toxins are produced.
    • Bake for 30 minutes before taking out, make sure to take the foil off and leave it to cool for a while before handling the soil.

     

    Microwave

    The easiest and quickest way to sterilise your compost is with your microwave. We suggest using an old microwave in your garden shed or greenhouse to prevent bringing compost into your home, and this way you can get on with other gardening jobs whilst it’s baking.

    • As before you will need moist soil, but not too wet that it is slushy.
    • Find a microwave safe container and fill this with your soil.
    • Do not use foil in the microwave, instead cover with cling film with holes for the steam to escape or a plastic lid with air holes.
    • For every two pounds of soil will need 90 seconds in the microwave.
    • After it’s pinged, leave the soil to cool before handling.

     

Alternative method:

  • Place two pounds of moist soil in a polypropylene bag
  • Leave the bag slightly open for ventilation
  • Zap in the microwave for 2-2 ½ minutes on full power before removing and cooling

 

Pressure Cooker

  • Start by pouring a few cups of water into the cooker
  • Next add your pans of soil, be careful not to add more than 4 inches, and pop it on the top rack.
  • Make sure to cover these with foil to help insulate the soil.
  • Close the lid for your cooker but make sure you leave the steam valve

For every ten pounds of soil, leave it to steam for 15-20 minutes.

Voila! You now have sterilised soil that will be sure to sprout stunning plants in no time! If you prefer shop bought compost, read our Primrose Guide to Compost for further advice and information.

Sterilised Compost

Zoe at PrimroseZoë works in the Marketing team at Primrose, and is passionate about all things social media.

After travelling across Europe and Asia, Zoë is intrigued by different cultures and learning more about the world around her. If she’s not jet setting, Zoë loves nothing more than curling up with a good book and a large glass of red wine!

She is an amateur gardener but keen to learn more and get stuck in!

See all of Zoë’s posts.

Composting, Gardening, How To, Laura Bennett, Weeding

The constant gardening struggle: weeds. Weeds are a problem that casual and advanced gardeners have struggled with. You are not alone with this problem. The good news is, you no longer have to be in a constant battle with weeds in your garden.

how to win war against weeds

So, how are you supposed to stop them from growing and taking over your garden? Can I really get rid of weeds without using harmful chemicals? Yes, you really can!

Weeds cause your plants to become overcrowded. They deplete the soil of nutrients that the plants you are trying to grow need. They also compete with your plants for the much-needed water and sunlight your garden receives.

What You Will Need:

• Landscape Fabric
• Landscape Fabric Pins
Organic Mulch or Soil
• Boiling Water
• Natural Weed Killer
• Decorative Rocks
• Plants of Your Choice
• A Shovel

De-weed Your Garden

The first step in keeping your garden free from weeds is to remove them from the area you want to work with. Use a shovel to get rid of perennial weeds with their roots to prevent regrowth. If you do not remove the roots along with the weed, the weed will just regrow.

de-weed your garden

Lay Down the Landscape Fabric

The next step is to lay down and prepare your landscape fabric. Make sure the fuzzy part of the fabric is face down. This helps the fabric stick to the ground and not move. Use the landscape fabric pins to hold the landscape fabric in place.

You can use more than one sheet of landscape fabric for a larger area. Make sure the pieces of fabric overlap here and that the edges are secure and leave no spaces for weeds to grow through.

Pro-Tip: A common mistake is not using enough fabric pins. Make sure to use them frequently. There is no such thing as too many here.

landscape fabric

Mulching

After the landscape fabric is in place it’s time to place down your mulch. Make sure you use a layer of mulch that is between 1-2 inches. The mulch prevents sunlight getting to the dirt below. This also helps to stop weeds from growing.

Pro-Tip: Some mulch may accidentally contain weed seeds, so make sure your mulch is coming from a nursery you trust to be weed free.

mulching

Pour Boiling Water

The next step is to pour the boiling water on top of your mulch. This will help kill any weeds that might be in your mulch that you are unaware of. This is also a good time to use your natural weed killer.

boiling water
Using Natural Weed Killer

Most weed killers only require you use them at the beginning of the planting season (Spring) and again at the end (mid-Summer) if you plan to grow in fall as well. If not, there is no need to reapply your weed killer until the next time you plan to plant. You are now ready to start planting.

natural weed killer

More Tips and Tricks

• Pick one day a week for de-weeding if you find the occasional weed still growing from your mulch.
• You can make a mixture of vinegar and water (in equal amounts) to use on weeds. Be careful not to get this on your other plants though.
• Plant close together to not allow weeds any room to grow.
• You can suffocate weeds and decorate your garden by placing decorative rocks on top of them.
• Drip irrigation systems can be used to provide only your plants with water and eliminate the concern of the water evaporating.

Conclusion

The prevention of weeds is the best method of treating them. Anyone can have a beautiful garden free of weeds. It does take some time and effort but is worth it. There are a lot of ways to help keep your garden free of weeds, which can motivate you to garden even more. With nicer weather on the horizon, it is a perfect time to get ready and give gardening a try.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please share your thoughts about the article in the comments, and share it with your friends if you enjoyed this.

Laura BennettLaura is a graduate of Horticulture and loves nature especially when it comes to flowers and different kinds of plants. She has been a blogger for some years now at Humid Garden.

Composting, Gardening, Shary Saunders

Gardening is a therapeutic hobby that yields incredible rewards in the form of fresh vegetables right in your backyard without having to buy from the store. The demand for organic foods has risen sharply as more people become health conscious for reasons such as weight loss and prolonged life.

Starting your own organic garden

The media constantly bombards consumers with information on healthy alternatives to food that promise to ward off lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, gout, and even cancer. If you are looking to embark on a healthy lifestyle for you and your family, consider starting an organic garden filled with your favorite vegetables and fruits.

Where do I find the time? You may wonder how you can squeeze in gardening after a long day at work capped with a long commute back home. The minute you get home, you find other pressing duties such as cooking dinner, supervising your kids’ homework and baking cookies for a show-and-tell the next day. How about making gardening a family activity? You can use this time to catch up with the highlights of the day from everyone.

What is Organic Farming?

Organic farming goes beyond avoiding the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms. If you are new to organic farming or crop husbandry in general, you need to stock up your tool shed with farming equipment such as a hoe, spade, pole saw, hand-weeding tool and a fork. You can fetch these tools from the gardening section of your local supermarket. In this article, we have outlined seven steps to starting your own organic garden. Let’s get started!

1. Identify the Patch

Identify the patch

While selecting the perfect location for a garden, be mindful not to thwart activities that happen in your backyard such as barbecues, swimming, kids playing, and hanging lines for laundry. If you have ample space in your yard, try one of the corners so you can use the wall as a wind breaker. If you are concerned about interference, erect a fence around the plot to keep off kids and family pets.

2. Tilling the Land

Tilling the land

Once you have selected the perfect location, you need to condition the soil by tilling and applying organic nutrients. Remember to use organic fertilizers as they are safer than chemical fertilizers. Good agricultural practice requires the ground to be left to air for a couple of days before planting seeds. You can go a step further and take a sample of soil to a lab for testing so you can know the level of nutrients present then decide what other treatments can be done to prep the ground.

3. Composting

Organic composting

Organic farming relies heavily on compost as it provides nutrients, shade and keeps off weeds. If you live on a farm, you can easily get compost from the cowshed or remains of other crops after harvesting. There are more sophisticated methods of making compost that takes several weeks to prepare, but if meticulous composting is not your cup of tea, you can buy pre-made compost from the agricultural store. Apply organic fertilizer to boost the nutrient content.

4. Source for Seedlings

Source for seedlings

Many people will opt to purchase seedlings from a nursery then transplant them onto their land. This method is faster than growing the seeds from scratch. The latter can be frustrating when seedlings refuse to rise due to poor handling or lack of enough nutrients. Most nurseries will have seedlings arranged according to their type of crop with botanical and regular names indicated at each plot. Select healthy plants with strong roots find out the best transplanting practice for each type of plant. Remember to ask for organic seedlings planted without interventions of chemical fertilizers that may poison your patch.

5. Planting Seeds

Planting seeds

This stage is probably the most exciting stage for gardening enthusiasts. It is time to get your hands dirty! Well, if you are new to farming you may want to preserve your well-manicured hands and choose to wear gloves instead. Consider spacing between crops; you can opt to plant your vegetable seedlings together a process called grouping. Less space between plants helps to conserve the moisture of the soil and ensure proper utilization of nutrients. However, be careful to leave room to allow proper air circulation. Find out about the blooming habits of the seedlings you plant. Some vegetables bloom into big leaves that require space otherwise the leaves droop and start rotting.

6. Watering

Watering the organic garden

Crops need water to grow. As obvious as this statement may sound, you need to establish a steady watering routine especially for the first several weeks as the plants begin to grow. Water the patch in the morning before heading to work when the sun is not up, and therefore, water can sip through the soil without evaporation. Neglecting to water the plants can be detrimental in the summer when scathing temperatures can kill crops. Involving the kids to help with the watering during school breaks can be a good learning experience or just fun childhood memories. Teach the kids to focus on the base of the plants as opposed to the leaves as this may cause damage and rotting.

7. Weeding

Organic weeding

This part of organic gardening is inevitable as most weeds thrive in the same conditions as plants. Good weed thrives alongside the plant without depriving it of nutrients, these little helpers even go as far as providing shade! Bad weeds, on the other hand, are parasitic in nature. They suck up all nutrients and water from the soil leaving the plant weak. Bad weeds also harbor pests that attack the plant, and this may lead to stunted growth or even death of the plant. Weeding can be done on a regular basis by simply yanking the weeds out (another family affair!). For tall plants, you need to use a pole saw to help you prune the extra leaves or branches. Apply mulch on a regular basis to discourage the growth of weeds. Your crop will be ready for harvesting in a few weeks.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a great pastime, organic gardening is worth a try. You get to preserve your land by applying organic waste and biological materials and reap fresh vegetables as rewards. Investing in the right equipment will enhance your gardening experience and save you time. We will keep you posted with more organic gardening ideas that have been tried and tested by gardening experts.

Hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any other suggestions you think I should have mentioned? Please let me know in the comments.

SharyShary Saunders is a blogger at sharycherry.com. Gardening and landscaping have been her passion for years. You can find Shary on Twitter at @SharySaunders.

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