When you think about fungi, mushrooms are probably the first things that spring to mind. But fungi is far more important in your garden than you may imagine. Like bacteria and other soil life, fungi plays a vital role in the soil ecosystem. They are another hidden helper in an organic garden. Without them, we human gardeners could not succeed in our endeavours.
There are a wide range of different fungi in your garden, operating below the soil to keep the soil web functioning as it should. They are essential to plant communication. They also play a role in nutrient cycles, and help move water and nutrients to where they are needed.
Fungi are amongst the least well known helpers in a soil ecosystem. Interestingly, even scientists are only just beginning to understand all the different functions they have and how exactly they work.
In a teaspoon of soil, you may find a couple of centimetres of plant root. Yet there may be many metres of fungal hyphae. These fungal strands form unbroken chains between soil particles, creating a sort of natural Internet, a complex infrastructure and communication network.
Specialist fungi, such as mycorrrhizae, work by forming symbiotic relationships with plants. And there are other types of fungi that fill other specific ecological niches. This is a very complex topic. But an appreciation of fungi means at least understanding that they are there.
As we work in our gardens, it is important to remember that less is often more when it comes to interacting with the soil. We should try to disturb the fragile and precious fungal networks in the soil as little as possible, and let them function as they should.
Few of us will ever become experts in the world and work of fungi. But understanding and appreciating the hidden helpers in our gardens – fungi included – can help us to garden in more nature- collaborative and soil web wise ways.