Soil and Compost forum: Myccorhizae for potted plants?

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Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Mar 7, 2015 9:59 AM CST
Do I need to add myccorhizae to potting soil? Aside from actually buying the myccorhizae, is there a way to introduce it to something like ProMix? I grow some veggies, a lemon tree, etc in pots as well as ornamentals. I have access right now to bagged mushroom compost and homemade worm compost but don't know if that would contain the myccorhizae that I might need. My outdoor yard waste compost bin will remain frozen for a few more weeks.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Mar 9, 2015 7:02 PM CST
Pro-Mix does make a variety of potting soil with myccorhizae already mixed in.

Their website seems to focus on consumer-size bags and cutely-named produsts, but they DO have an MR product:
MYCOACTIVEâ„¢: GROWTH ENHANCER
http://www.promixfindgrowtopia.com/myco-active/

You might do better by going to a local hippy-hydroponic store and buy some cheaper MR. I got several ounces of a myccorhizae mix for a few dollars, but they MIGHT have been selected for that store's primary clientele. Woody plants tend to need different myccorhizal species than vegetables and flowers.

If I can find the "professional" Pro-Mix site, some of their bales have MR added, I think the two-letter abbreviation was "BX".

Yeah, now I'm getting closer to the commercial products:
http://www.pthorticulture.com/en/

YES! This is the page for "real" growers' products, like bales of professional quality pro-Mix blends.. My suspicion is that, when I see small plastic bags with pretty colors and vague, salesy text, I'm paying twice as much for an inferior product.

http://www.pthorticulture.com/en/products/



Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
Charter ATP Member Region: Canadian Bulbs Winter Sowing Enjoys or suffers cold winters Lilies
Peonies Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Ideas: Master Level
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CarolineScott
Mar 9, 2015 7:21 PM CST
But don't different plants require different mycorhizae?
Is there information somewhere which tells which microbes to use with which plants?
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Mar 10, 2015 8:17 AM CST
I did find some ProMix Premium over the weekend with "growth enhancer" stuff and bought a bale out of desperation since garden centers here aren't stocked yet. My first question over their choice of words - is it just a growth enhancer or does it actually contain mycorrhizae? Second question - the bale I purchased was obviously left over from last year since it was outdoors, covered with snow and frozen solid - would mycorrhizae survive those conditions?
Gosh, Caroline - you raised an interesting question. Here I was, thinking I could inoculate potting soil with some compost and maybe a bit of garden soil but my soil here in the midwest might not contain the mycorrhizae needed by a potted lemon or banana tree. I may be pulling out my hair trying to accommodate my various potted plants. Smiling
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Region: Alabama Composter Garden Photography Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Seedfork
Mar 10, 2015 10:47 AM CST
Just read this interesting article the other day. There are two sides to every story but I really don't see the need in going to the extra step of adding something there seems to be little need for in most cases.
http://www.gardenmyths.com/mycorrhizae-fungi-inoculant-produ...
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Mar 10, 2015 11:35 AM CST
Seedfork - thanks for posting that link. Started this thread because I thought I had heard or read that mycorrhizal fungi are generally required when using organic fertilizers (which I do). Not so concerned about in-ground planting as I was about long-term pot residents. Perhaps I'm fretting about nothing?
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Region: Alabama Composter Garden Photography Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Seedfork
Mar 10, 2015 11:47 AM CST
I just think of all the beautiful plants that were grown in pots long before we even knew about mycorrhizal fungi.
Fretting about nothing? I agree
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Mar 10, 2015 12:55 PM CST
You might have a point there but some of my things just have not done as well in pots as I would hope even with the more obvious things are supplied.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Mar 10, 2015 3:52 PM CST
I think that maintaining a healthy (diverse) population of soil microbes in a pot would be pretty difficult.

Just keeping enough generic decomposers alive to break down organic matter into soluble nutrients might be a challenge.

I'm not experienced with potted plants, but living soil is such a miracle that I wonder how easily it can be re-created in a pot.

Adding MR to "sterile" potting soil seems less likely to hurt than to help.

Non-woody pl,ants mostly use what used to be called endo-MR. Maybe the newer term "arbuscular MR" means around the same thing, I forget. Each plant species might have just a few species of MR that it "likes best", but I think they can make some use of less-preferred endo-MR.

I think there are many more kinds of Ecto-MR (mostly for woody plants) than endo-MR, as one comment mentioned.

You might try harvesting some fine roots from a healthy plant by doing a little root pruning. Mixing those into a new pot for the same kind of 0lant MIGHT get you some of what that plant most needs - but you might also import a specialized, efficient plant pathogen that just LOVES to kill that variety of plant.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Mar 10, 2015 4:18 PM CST
Of course, I have a collection of "one of each" so not sure if transferring soil from, say, the banana pot to the lemon pot would do the trick. Ach! Maybe I'm thinking too hard.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Mar 10, 2015 4:30 PM CST
I figure that soil microbes and plant roots have millennia of practice. If the conditions in the pot are good, dust from air and water are likely to bring in something close enough. The roots will encourage the ones they like best.

If indeed a pot CAN maintain a healthy enough environment to sustain as many kinds of microbes as are needed to have a healthy "population", they probably don't NEED us to supply fancy powders and liquids that are mostly sold to home gardeners, not savvy professionals.

Some microbiologist, perhaps many years ago, put out the theory that "Everything is everywhere". When you include spores, airborne dust, ground water and animals, you can almost rely on any plant in the ground encountering enough microbes or spores of microbes that it can eventually find any species it needs, and encourage that one to multiply.

Since the commercial products each only provide a few species of MR and other microbes, why not take a teaspoon of soil from each of your healthiest beds and pots and mix them, and keep them aerobic, and well-provided with OM. Maybe make tea from the soil samples.

Then sprinkle a 1/4 tsp of soil inoculum onto each pot you want to inoculate and water it in.

It can't hurt unless you import some plant diseases.

Many people swear by "compost tea" or "manure tea" to provide "beneficial" microbes.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Mar 11, 2015 8:35 AM CST
Hey Rick - that seems like a sensible idea. Once the ground warms up a little more I'll use some of my own compost and worm castings with a few spoonfuls of garden soil. Even have a bucket and bubbler to cook some up.
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Region: Alabama Composter Garden Photography Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Seedfork
Mar 11, 2015 11:00 AM CST
Well, just for interesting reading and maybe to stir a few comments here in the soil and compost forum, here is another interesting if somewhat controversial opinion of microbes in compost and compost tea.
Two links below:
http://www.gardenmyths.com/compost-adds-enzymes-hormones/
http://www.gardenmyths.com/compost-tea/

[Last edited by Seedfork - Mar 11, 2015 1:09 PM (+)]
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Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Mar 11, 2015 12:58 PM CST
Hmm - reading article and trying to absorb. His comments tend to lean more towards anaerobic compost tea when it was my understanding that aerobic compost tea was better. Is this not a reason that one cannot buy commercially prepared compost tea? Microbes aside, I thought that the desired affect of compost tea was a quicker uptake of nutrients through the leaves. While the application of compost to gardens is desirable to improve soil which in turn improves plant life, how much additional fertilizer is truly necessary?
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Mar 11, 2015 6:10 PM CST
Larry, I thought the two links were mostly disproving strawman arguments. Hormones? Enzymes? Hunnh? I never heard those claimed as benefits of compost tea.

If you are trying to establish a more-varied microbial population, AND THEN HOPE THAT the new microbes help digest OM by excreting enzymes, sure.

If you are trying to establish a more-varied microbial population, some of which have evolved to "work with" the roots of plants you are growing, AND HOPE THAT the new microbes exchange signaling molecules with the roots and each other and with plant pathogens ... and you call those "hormones" ... sure.

But those fall under the category of trying to establish a more-varied microbial population and hoping that more beneficial ones multiply and colonize the roots and root zone, perhaps through cooperation with the plant. I don't recall those links actually saying there was ANY scientific evidence to DIS-prove that theory.

Nutrients? I GUESS ... if you expect to extract a significant amount of any nutrient from the small amount of compost, manure or molasses you add to a 5 gallon pail. I'd call that another easy-to-refute straw man or red herring argument that I didn't know anyone was proposing seriously.

>> In summary, there is little scientific evidence to support the idea that compost tea solves disease problems.

That should be taken more as a limitation of science than of compost tea.

I'm pretty sure there are few studies spending millions of dollars and man-years of effort to bash or support the theory that compost tea CAN confer benefits. More likely a few teams had a few small plots and a few months to attempt to get a publishable paper.

"Little evidence to support a theory" doesn't mean the theory is wrong, just that it's hard to PROVE. Even though I have a strong loyalty to the scientific method, I know its shortcomings. It works best in very simple systems, like physics and inorganic chemistry.

Science can take deep breath, try really hard, and do a great job of studying organic chemistry and understanding it so well that they can make numeric predictions that are pretty accurate - to maybe one decimal place.

Spectroscopy might be different and more accurate - the only variables in spectroscopy are the atoms in the molecule, the electron orbitals, magnetic fields, temperature and sometimes the solvent system. Much simpler than a plant leaf!

Science does a fair job of studying biochemistry and medicine, but they don't so much "prove" numerically accurate things as "discover" things, which is more like descriptive science than analytical science. In medicine, something like 50% of the patients express 50% of the "expected" symptoms.

Psychiatry, social "science", plant physiology and ecology? We do CALL those sciences because practitioners TRY to be evidence-based, but they ain't "science" in the "PROOF" sense, like "measure it to three significant digits and then PREDICT it to two-and-a-half significant digits".

Maybe plant physiology is a simple enough system that science can be numerically accurate to one or two digits, by ignoring complicated interactions or trying too average them out of consideration. I'm thinking of a few corn plants in a growth chamber where they measure the ever-living doo-dah out of atmospheric gases, air movement, temperature and insolation, ... then come to the SOIL and opt for something "reproducible" rather than representative. They probably get reproducible results that are useful for some purposes, but ...

Absence of PROOF is not any kind of proof of absence.

"PROOF" is very hard. The first thing you have to do is control EVERYTHING so you can get repeatable results or your colleagues will mock and shun you and vote against your papers when they come up for peer review. That right there rules out or makes very difficult to test something that occurs in complex hard-to-recreate situations.

The easiest thing in the world is to simplify and "control" a complex situation enough to prevent anything complicated from happening at all!

For example, prove this: "Giving flowers and chocolates improve a guy's chances of encouraging a woman to sleep with him". A scientist would have to find a source of standardized men and women (hundreds of each), standardized flowers and standardized chocolate, standardize the setting, and then run them through tests in a sterile, white-walled environment surrounded by video cameras and microphones and multiple white-lab-coated introverts with clipboards.

I shudder to think what a scientist would consider a "reproducible" source of standardized men and women! The very first thing they would try to rule out is "contamination" of results where men that bring flowers are better gardeners and hence more attractive, and men who bring candy tend to be thoughtful and considerate but dumb, since not many women want to be fattened up.

They would surely NOT find any measurable increase in hanky-panky attributable to flowers and chocolates! In fact they would probably conclude that men and women never have sex (in a controlled, reproducible laboratory environment, but who remembers to stress that in the paper they want to publish?)

It's not as bad as "consider a spherical plant", but you could easily see one result in a controlled, laboratory situation designed to maximize repeatability, and different results in 100 real-world, representative gardens.

If 100 gardeners think they get improvements good enough to swear by a method, then I would assign the scientists to KEEP LOOKING until they found the conditions or factors that gave some good real-world results. THEN, if practical, try to PROVE something about the factors they think they saw in play, in controlled and repeatable conditions.

The links did a good job of saying "I didn't find proof yet", but that doesn't debunk anything. Once the people in the field have a theory based on their observations and experience (or based on eager optimism and love of compost) , the burden is on the scientists to DIS-prove it before they mock it. I'm sure gardeners could do a more scientific job of testing their theory, like spraying only one corner of a field and then photographing growth and measuring yield per square meter.

(Scientists are more likely to be impressed by "per square meter" than by "per square yard". if you use "yards", you must not be one of the club, and hence your beliefs are suspect.)

I didn't see anything in the article to rule out the following speculative scenario:

Plant root hairs (and probably leaves) have co-evolved with microbes.

They "encourage" beneficial microbes to colonize around and in some cases inside root hairs (and maybe leaves). Some of that has been seen to occur in labs.

There are interactions among microbes in soil, including competition and "signaling" with excreted chemicals.

There are some observed, proven cases where certain "beneficial" microbe species decreases the population of, and the harmful effects of, certain plant pathogens.

Considering that we can't even CULTURE more than 10% of all soil organisms, the are probably many more interactions than have been proven to exist or observed tentatively.

Co-evolution would tend to favor interactions that increase plant productivity, since that is the source of food for the entire soil web.

Co-evolution ought to favor interactions among roots, "beneficial" microbes and "harmful" microbes that tend to increase plant productivity and soil fertility, since those are the energy sources and living space for the entire soil ecosystem.

Adding a wide variety of microbes to the root zone (or phytosphere) ought to enable the plant to find and encourage more beneficial species and varieties of microbes than they had access to before the compost tea (or compost) was added.
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Region: Alabama Composter Garden Photography Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Seedfork
Mar 11, 2015 7:05 PM CST
"Hormones? Enzymes? Hunnh? I never heard those claimed as benefits of compost tea".
Just one example of what your first sentence is about, go down to compost extract.
http://www.soilfoodweb.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&v...

"Nutrients? I GUESS ... if you expect to extract a significant amount of any nutrient from the small amount of compost, manure or molasses you add to a 5 gallon pail. I'd call that another easy-to-refute straw man or red herring argument that I didn't know anyone was proposing seriously".
Did you listen to podcast #80 starting at about minute 35?
I won't go down the list but I don't think he picked things that were not being discussed and promoted often by gardeners.
[Last edited by Seedfork - Mar 11, 2015 7:12 PM (+)]
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Mar 11, 2015 8:42 PM CST
I haven't been following the podcasts lately.

I guess there ARE some claims being made for strange benefits of compost tea that I was unaware of. So I should not bash the original authors for making up irrelevant boogeymen or making up imaginary advantages. Maybe they stressed nutrients, "hormones" and enzymes much more than I thought was balanced.

If they had simply said "some enthusiasts even invoke enzymes and hormones as magic words to glorify compost tea and make it sound exciting", I would be singing their praises.

If they had spent just one sentence instead of multiple pages to say "there just aren't many nutrients IN compost tea!" I would also be praising their wisdom and sagacity. But Becky often scolds me for trying to tell authors what they SHOULD have said. My bad.

Anyway, I agree with what you said around 80-90%, despite the argumentative tone that this post seems to be accumulating! You corrected my belief that "no one is talking about enzymes and hormones from compost tea", and I accept that.

The first article(s?) bashed the ideas about enzymes, hormones and nutrients over and over, unnecessarily to my mind, until you pointed out that indeed those strange claims ARE being made ...
... then they finally got around to the only thing that makes sense to me - increasing the variety of available micro-organisms. By that point, late in the article, my skepticism had been inflamed. If it takes them three pages to "refute" a claim I never considered plausible enough to spend time on, how many interesting things can they have to say about interesting claims?

I accept their statement that the science he read has not yet proved that compost tea can add microbial diversity, or that that is a good thing, but for reasons I mentioned, "science has not proved" doesn't count for any very big whoop with me.

If he had said that science HAS proved that compost tea CAN'T increase microbial diversity in ANY cases, I would be surprised and very interested.

However, even the link that you provided referred to "organisms" 5-10 times for every reference to "nutrients". (Well, the parts I read it did.) I would agree with that weighting!

Maybe SOME nutrients are absorbed by leaves from compost tea, but sheeze! Wouldn't a soluble chemical foliar feeding provide 20 or 50 times more nutrients?

Also, if someone is trying to extract soluble nutrients from a compost heap, they should be tunneling under the heap to collect leachate. THAT would be an interesting article! Otherwise they would have to have some clever timing, to catch those nutrients in the seconds between being solublized and being incorporated into the microbe that solublized it! Maybe right after the thermophilic phase, when the thermophiles are dying and being replaced by mesophiles, the decomposition products MIGHT accumulate enough to be detected ... but I would trust one teaspoon of Peter's plant food to provide more soluble nutrients than a cup of compost.

Some of the "nutrient" references were not "add nutrients to soil" but rather "increase availability of nutrients" which could mean soil aeration, pH, water retention, increased microbial life solublizing existing insoluble nutrients, root hair health, or other indirect ways of increasing root access to nutrients.

Searching, I only found "hormone" mentioned 3 times, near the end, under definitions of "Compost Extract" and "Compost Leachate ". "Enzyme" was only mentioned twice, int he same paragraphs.


Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Region: Alabama Composter Garden Photography Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Seedfork
Mar 11, 2015 9:06 PM CST
No argumentative tone intended at all, the whole point of my post was not to take sides, but to present different opinions and views. I am not saying anything that was presented in those posts was correct or incorrect. I am leaving that up to the readers to decide. Did I mention the articles might be controversial?
[Last edited by Seedfork - Mar 11, 2015 9:19 PM (+)]
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Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Mar 12, 2015 8:34 AM CST
If one does not use chemical fertilizers either in the soil or to spray on foliage, is compost or compost tea a decent alternative for anyone not wanting to over-fertilize?
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Region: Alabama Composter Garden Photography Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Seedfork
Mar 12, 2015 10:49 AM CST
To begin with, I think some soils could support even vegetable crops without having to add anything. My soil could not. I have worked very hard making compost now for several years, and still in my vegetable patch I have to add chemical fertilizer to really be productive. My flower beds could probably get by without any chemical fertilizer, but I still get better results when I use them.
So I think some people can just use compost and compost tea and do very well, others will not be able to be very productive doing that.
I think compost is wonderful stuff, I use a whole lot of it and I love the results I see in the change in soil texture, but in my garden I use it mostly for a soil conditioner not so much for nutritional value.
I have had a hard time learning not to over do when using chemical fertilizers, but I you can remember to just use teaspoons and tablespoons instead of double handfuls you will normally be alright.
I think that is the main lesson to be learned, use chemical fertilizers in moderation and don't go by the theory that if a little is good more is better, because that just is not true.

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