The Importance of Fungi in a Garden

Many people are unaware of the vitally important role that fungi plays in the soil ecosystem of any garden and in other natural systems. When we think of fungi, we tend to think about the visible fruiting bodies of mushrooms and toadstools. But fungi's main work takes place underneath the ground, where strands of fungal hyphae are formed. These hyphae are thin, delicate, root-like structures which allow for the transportation of water and nutrients, sometimes over surprisingly long distances.

Moldy fruitThese hyphae work like a plant's roots, yet are far more fine, elegant and far-reaching. Within the soil ecosystem, fungi's hyphae are like the roads and railway tracks, the telephone lines and the power conduits. Without this framework, the soil food web would not function and our gardens would not function as they should. The hyphae work between soil grains and make nutrients soluble, making them available for the uptake of our plants. They ensure that water, nitrogen, phosphorus and all the trace elements that plants need are transported to where they are required, and also help to bind the soil together.

Some fungi work, along with certain bacteria, to break down organic matter into its constituent elements. You can aid these beneficial fungi by mulching with plenty of organic top-dressing and leaving the soil beneath as undisturbed as possible.

Pine mycorrhizaeSpecialist fungi, such as mycorrrhizae, also strengthen and enhance a garden ecosystem by forming symbiotic relationships with plants and effectively increasing their root mass exponentially. Tricoderma, another fungus, has the ability to invoke an immune response in plants, hardening them to disease and attack. Both of these fungi can be added to your garden as plants are transplanted, to improve the sub-soil network that enables good plant growth.

In addition to adding beneficial specialist fungi, gardeners can also work to ensure a good, secure fungal network by undertaking to disrupt the soil as little as possible. In a 'no dig' garden, the topsoil, with its unbroken fungal networks, is disturbed as little as possible, so the fungi and other soil biota are able to do their jobs.

Fungi are the unsung heroes of an organic garden or natural ecosystem. They allow plants to communicate with one another, co-operate with plants, and make sure water and nutrients can spread effectively. Even though you may not be fully aware of all that the fungi in your garden do for you and your plants, you can make sure that you care for their delicate systems in all your gardening practises.