Mychorriza is a beneficial fungus that has a symbiotic relationship with the roots of plants. Studies have shown that mycorrhizal inoculation helps plants in soils with heavy metals and that are low in nutrients. It also helps plants take up nutrients and moisture by increasing the surface area of the root systems up to 700 to 1,000 percent. Cathy Hanus wanted to see if the use of products that encourage mycorrhizae growth would help small berry growers establish productive plantings more quickly. She planted aronia and elderberry root cuttings in four groups: control, commercially available compost added, commercially available mycorrhizae added, and both commercially available compost and mycorrhizae added.
Based on her own earlier research, Hanus expected the group with both the commercially available compost and mycorrhizae to produce the most significant early growth. However, the early analysis indicated that compost only produced better results than compost/mycorrhizae together; mycorrhizae only treatments were nearly as good as compost. All plants had mycorrhizae inoculation by eight weeks, but the treated plants developed mycorrhizae four to six weeks earlier than the control which relied on naturally occurring mycorrhizae.
Analysis of the roots revealed that the compost-only group had very bushy feeder-like roots; the mycorrhizae group had roots similar to the compost group but they were obviously less full; the mycorrhizae/compost (“Both”) group had very long roots with little fullness; and the control group had scrawny roots. It appeared that the compost treatment was preferable.
As time went on, the plants in the “Both” group produced taller plants, which are preferable, and had more production, even in a year with extreme heat and little rain. Currently, Hanus believes the “Both” treatment is the best option and that adding mycorrhizae is a simple way to increase the early growth of a plant. She plans to continue the experiment to see if the early start of the composted plants makes a difference in plant growth over a longer period. She also plans to pay more attention to the root systems.
View Cathy's presentation at the 2012 Farmers Forum through NCR-SARE's YouTube playlist. Visit www.youtube.com/NCRSAREvideo for this and other videos.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant: