Horticulture agent starts Soil Guardian program in Brevard County

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I had a great idea recently, and I hope that many of you will join me when you reach the end of this article.

For those of you who have been reading my articles for a while, you probably have noticed that I encourage gardeners to work with nature when growing plants. In natural areas, such as forests, prairies and all areas that are undisturbed and not maintained by humans (think fertilization, irrigation and pest control), the soil is full of microbes, called the soil food web, that support the plants.

A topic that has been gaining momentum over the past decade is soil health, because it is the key to producing healthy plants and protecting water quality. The definition of soil health, provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the US Department of Agriculture, is “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.”

At the base of the vital living portion, the soil food web, are beneficial bacteria, saprophytic fungi and mycorrhizae.

Building a soil food web could improve your lawn and boost the health of the Indian River Lagoon.

Saprophytic fungi are necessary because they are the only microbes that can break down lignin, which is the wood in trees, shrubs and palms. Once the wood is broken down, bacteria move in to consume the smaller pieces, breaking down the remaining material.

For herbaceous plants and other non-woody plant material, only bacteria are needed to break them down. Mycorrhizae are unique because they form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots. Plants feed the mycorrhizae complex sugars with root exudates, and in return, the mycorrhizae gather nutrients for the plant.

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