Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mycorrhizae for Your Plants by LariAnn Garner

Mycorrhizae for Your Plants by LariAnn Garner
(reprinted with permission from BC Council of Garden Clubs The Bulletin, November/December 2010)

Mushrooms growing amongst pines in a forest can be indicative of much more than merely the rotting of organic matter.  Many fungi have symbiotic relationships with vascular plants.  These relationships involve trees such as pines, oaks, and eucalyptus, and include your garden vegetable plants and flowers.  Knowing about mycorrhizae, what they do for plants, and how you can grow them for yourself in your own garden plot or yard. 

Mushrooms are not just for eating, and that white webby stuff you see under your organic mulch is not necessarily just the mulch slowly rotting away.  Within your soil is a whole hidden world of activity that affects how well your plants grow.  Teeming microorganisms in healthy soil, including fungi and bacteria, work alongside each other to break down organic matter and free up vital elements for use by your plants.  But what about our gardens?  Oftentimes we are trying to grow our plants in severely disturbed soil, plots that were once farmland, or land bulldozed for housing developments.  Such situations are poor in the kinds of soil biota that your plants need.  To make things worse, the application of chemical fertilizer can grow things even further off balance.  The out-of-balance situation fosters the growth of what we call pathogenic organisms.  Our response to those is often the application of toxic pesticides.  Is it no wonder why we sometimes find it difficult to grow a nice garden? 

Does my plant need an innie or an outie? 
Amidst the bustling action in healthy soil are fungi that have special relationships with plant roots.  These fungi actually grow together with, or even within, roots and by so doing vastly expand the ability of the roots to access soil nutrients.  Roots with such assistance are called "mycorrhizae", meaning "fungus roots".  Pine (Pinus) and Barberry (Berberis) are two well-known genera of trees that have ectomycorrhizae or mycorrhizae that grow externally to the root cells.  You can think of these fungi as the "outie".  These are also the types that most often produce mushrooms in the soil near their hosts. 

Another kind of mycorrhizal fungus is known as vesicular-arbuscular (VA), or endomycorrhizae.  These are the type found in association with your vegetable and flower plants.  Hyphae of these fungi actually penetrate the root cells and the tissue of the plants they are in association with.  Endomycorrhizal fungi are the "innies".  The innies are in the group of fungi known as "water molds".  This group also includes such notorious pathogens as Phythium, the cause of damping-off, and Phytophthora, responsible for crown and root rot.  The presence of the endomycorrhizae can help your garden plants fend off the nasties without the use of toxic chemicals.

Knowing whether your plant needs an innie or an outie is crucial to getting the kind of response you want from these special fungi.  Inoculating an outie plant with an innie mycorrhizal fungus will give you little or no results.  Since there are a large number of both types of fungi in nature, commercially available formulations of mycorrhizae are usually a blend of many species of the two types.  Look for blends that include mycorrhizal spores, as some formulations may contain chopped-up fungal hyphae instead of spores. 

Sometimes information on the mycorrhizal fungus specific to your plants is available.  If it is, you can select the particular type that is best for your situation.  Innies are generally non-specific as to their host, while outies are more particular to hosts.

The difference is clear!
I have grown Rainbow Eucalyptus tree seedlings with and without the mycorrhizae and the difference is dramatic.  Eucalyptus happens to require the outie, or ectomycorrhizal, type of fungus.  With the mycorrhizae, the plant is much greener and healthier even when fertilized less often.  The fertilizer that is applied is utilized much more efficiently.  Without the mycorrhizae, more fertilizer is required and the trees lack in overall health.  One caution:  too much fertilizer can defeat the purpose of mycorrhizal inoculation.  These fungi are most helpful in making phosphorus more available to plants, so an abundance of available phosphorus in the soil will nullify their usefulness.  Beside helping with nutrient uptake, mycorrhizae can aid your trees and plants in withstanding stresses such as drought and heat.  They are also vitally important in restoring areas stripped of vegetation, such as some kinds of surface miming sites or waste areas. 

Where can I get mycorrhizae?
Mycorrhizal blends are available from a number of online vendors.  Several of these sources are Fungi Perfecti, Bio-Organics, and Mycorrhizal Products.  **BC supplier, The Organic Gardener's Pantry, of mycorrhizal products**

If you are growing a variety of plants, including woody shrubs, trees, and vegetables or flowers, an endo-ectomycorrhizal blend is your best choice.  For those whose primary interest is vegetable crops, an endomycorrhizal blend will be optimal.  Some blends even include micronutrients with the mycorrhizae.  study the information presented on these and other websites and you will become knowledgeable about the types of mycorrhizae that will be most beneficial for your use.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Dirt on...


Like, Amaryllis, Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceous, a sub-section of Narcissus tazetta) are popular indoor plants for winter and the holiday season.  Unlike other narcissus, paperwhites do not require a chilling period, so forcing them is as easy as putting the bulbs in water and watching them grow.  The fragrant flower blooms within three to four weeks of planting (may be somewhat longer during winter months).

While paperwhites can be planted in soil, more commonly they are grown in decorative pots, tall glass vases (perfect for supporting the tall stalks, baskets and unusual and/or vintage containers.  Be creative.  The container should be 4 to 5 inches deep and watertight. 

Paperwhite bulbs should feel firm and heavy in the hand, with no bruising nor nicks.  And, with bulbs, bigger is better!
  • Select watertight container
  • Spread an inch or two of decorative stone, coloured marbles, or even gravel on container bottom
  • Position your paperwhite bulbs, pointy side up, onto the stone, marbles, etc.  Wiggle them in.  They not only look better in a large group, the tight fit will help keep them from toppling over
  • Continue to layer more of your decorative material until the bulb is nestled securely in up to its neck
  • Add water until water level just meets the base of the bulb.  This should stimulate growth.  Do not submerse the bulb completely or the bulb will rot
  • At this point the bulbs do not need light
  • Keep bulbs on the cool side - about 65 degrees F or 18 degrees C
  • Once roots have established, provide the paperwhites with light
  • Once the bulbs have flowered, they will last longer if removed from direct sunlight
  • Start pots of paperwhites every couple of weeks for continued pleasure
Although problems with paperwhites are rare, the tendency to topple over does exist.  The researchers at Cornell University Flower Bulb Research Centre discovered that feeding paperwhites a solution of diluted alcohol you could restrict the stalk and leaf size thus minimizing the 'topple problem.'  For the exact procedure, please click here.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christmas Tree Celebrities

Originally, I was going to post this closer to Christmas but this cold and snowy weather has me thinking about the holiday season...

Top Five Trees for Christmas
(Reprinted with permission from BC Council of Garden Clubs The Bulletin, November/December 2010 issue) http://www.bcgardenclubs.com/

The following Christmas Tree species have been voted and ranked as the most popular Christmas trees grown and sold in the US.  The poll is based on the ten most common trees available for purchase.  They are ranked according to the poll popularity.

The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) reports that millions of US families plan to focus their holiday traditions around a real Christmas tree.  That means that a lot of real trees will be sold this year, starting in mid-November.  NCTA also says that "about 23% of the consumers will purchase their trees from a 'Christmas tree farm' while about 62% will buy trees from a retail lot."  About 300,000 consumers will purchase their real tree over the internet or by mail order.

It is estimated that just as many households plan to use a new or used artificial tree this season.  Real trees are in major competition with the plastic and aluminum versions.

Number 1 is the Fraser Fir.  The Fraser fir is a native southern fir and very similar to Balsam fir.  Some say it is a southern extension of the Balsam fir species and naturally grows at elevations about 5,000 feet.  this fir has dark green needles, 1/2 to 1 inch long and ships well.  The tree has excellent needle retention along with a nice scent.  Fraser fir was named for Scot botanist, John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700's. 

Number 2 is the Douglas Fir.  The Douglas Fir is not a true fir but actually has its own unique classification.  Unlike true firs the cones on Douglas fir hang downward.  Douglas fir grows cone-shaped naturally, has 1 to 1 1/2 inch needles that are persistent and has a sweet scent when crushed.  the Douglas fir tree is shipped to and found in nearly every tree lot in the US.  The tree was named after David Douglas who studied the tree in the 1800's.

Number 3 is the Balsam Fir.  The Balsam Fir is a beautiful pyramidal tree with short, flat, long-lasting, aromatic needles.  Balsam Fir and Fraser Fir have many similar characteristics and some botanists consider them extensions of the same species.  Their geographic ranges do not overlap and the Balsam Fir has to have cold winters and cool summers.  Balsam Fir has a nice, dark green colour and are very fragrant.  The tree was named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on the bark and which was used to treat wounds in the Civil War. 

Number 4 is the Colorado Blue Spruce.  The Colorado Blue is the most familiar to people as an ornamental landscape tree.  the tree has dark green to powdery blue needles, 1 to 3 inches long and a pyramidal form very often sold "living" and with an entire root ball - to be planted after the holidays.  the spruce was chosen in 1978 and planted as the official living White House Lawn Christmas tree.  The young tree is pleasingly symmetrical, is best among species for needle retention and the state tree of both Utah and Colorado.

Number 5 is the Scotch or "Scots" Pine.  This pine is the most planted commercial Christmas tree in North America according to NCTA.  However, this survey does not suggest that it is the most popular.  a true pine, Scots pine was imported from Europe and is not native to America.  It was first used in reforestation efforts in the New World.  Scotch pine tree has stiff branches, two bundled dark green needles 1 to 3 inches long that are retained for four weeks.  the aroma is long-lasting and lingers through the entire season.  Scotch pine does not drop needles when dry - excellent retention. 

What's your personal favourite?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hear Ye, Hear Ye...Read All About It.....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Powell River Garden Club Calendar 2010-2011


Poppies are worn as a symbol of remembrance, a reminder of the blood-red flower that still grows on the former battlefields of France and Belgium.  During the terrible bloodshed of the second battle of Ypres in the spring of 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, wrote of these flowers which lived on among the graves of the dead soldiers. 

The flowers and the larks serve as reminders of nature's ability to withstand the destructive elements of war by men, a symbol of hope in a period of human despair. 
(excerpts from A Day of Remembrance, Veterans Affairs Canada).  To read further, please click here

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"He who shares the joy in what he's grown, spreads joy abroad and doubles his own."  Author Unknown

Sharing Our Gardens

Jayne Fogarty has offered to share with us how she puts her garden to bed in the fall, replenishes existing gardens for spring, and creates new garden beds using a variety of techniques.  In addition, Jayne has kindly offered us the opportunity to return to her garden in the spring to see the results of her efforts. 

Jayne's garden, located at 7318 Alberni Street (between Manson and Bowness), looks like a cottage in the forest.  Watch for the sign and balloons! 

When:  Saturday, November 6th, 2010 from 10:00am til noon