Trichoderma has been getting a lot of attention lately in the agriculture and gardening communities along with Mycorrhizae. That's because Trichoderma has some pretty amazing properties that make it a valuable tool for farmers and gardeners. Trichoderma is not only recognized for providing a beneficial enzyme in the textile sector since the early 1900s but also as a producer of an immunosuppressant used to protect organ transplants from rejection.
It was not until the late 1970s, people started to realize the potential Trichoderma has as a biological control agent against plant pathogens. In the 1980s, scientists found that certain species of Trichoderma can stimulate plant growth by increasing the uptake of nutrients and water and producing compounds that improve plant resistance to stress.
Trichoderma is a genus of fungi that may be found in many types of environments, including in soil, on plant surfaces, and in decaying wood. Trichoderma fungi are characterized by fast growth and the ability to form sclerotia as well as conidial spores in large amounts. They come in a variety of hues, including white, green, blue, and black.
Trichoderma species are saprophytic fungi that can break down complex organic matter and release nutrients that are available for plant uptake. They also produce compounds that can inhibit the growth of other fungi, making them effective biological control agents against plant pathogens such as Pythium, Fusarium, and Rhizoctonia.
(Trichoderma Strains. Credit to: Lidia Błaszczyk1, Marek Siwulski2, Krzysztof Sobieralski2, Jolanta Lisiecka2, Małgorzata Jędryczka)
When used as a biocontrol agent, Trichoderma can be applied to seeds, plant roots, or leaves of plants. It can also be applied to the soil around plants. Once it has been introduced into the environment, Trichoderma will compete with plant pathogens for space and nutrients.
As a saprophytic fungi, Trichoderma can detect, penetrate, and kill plant pathogens by releasing cell-wall-degrading enzymes such as chitinases and glucanases that break down the cell walls of fungi. These cell-wall-degrading enzymes are a great threat to pathogenic fungi or bacteria. One of the most common ways to use Trichoderma as a biocontrol agent is through seed treatment. This method is particularly effective against root rot diseases caused by Pythium, Phytophthora, and Rhizoctonia.
The most common species of Trichoderma used as a biocontrol agent are Trichoderma harzianum, Trichoderma viride, and Trichoderma koningii.
Trichoderma can be as effective as chemical fungicides when applied in the early stages of the problem. It is very effective when applied as a preventative measure. Trichoderma is a bio-fungicide that is nontoxic, environmentally beneficial, and does not harm the soil ecosystem.
However, if the condition has already developed to a severe level, Trichoderma treatment is highly unlikely to succeed. At this point, the pathogen has already inflicted significant harm to the plant roots, overwhelming the afflicted region, and it's tough for Trichoderma to turn around the situation.
Pathogenic fungal spores that cause root rot or crown rot spread fast. If you didn't get early treatment, your best bet is to neutralize the infected area with hypochlorous acid or apply fungicides that include one of these active ingredients: mefenoxam, etridiazole, propamocarb, dimethomorph, thiophanate methyl, iprodione, triflumizole, etc.
Improving drainage and aeration around the roots is the next step to be followed. Fungal infections arise when the soil has poor drainage and aeration. Improving the soil's quality will help reduce disease transmission, help plants to recover, and above all, it is the most effective method in preventing future fungal infections.
Chemical treatments typically eliminate almost all of the soil organisms in a given area, so it's important to re-establish the local ecosystem post chemical application. One of the most effective ways to do this is through composting. Composting not only provides an ideal environment for Trichoderma and other beneficial microbes to thrive, but it also adds organic matter to improve soil structure, drainage, and aeration. Applying a microbial supplement such as Mikrobs or Mikro-Root 2 to 3 weeks after the chemical treatment can also speed up the recovery of microorganisms in the soil.
If you have root rot or crown rot problem, it's important to act quickly and take appropriate measures to improve the health of your soil. Trichoderma can be a helpful tool in your arsenal, but it's also important to focus on improving the overall health of your soil to prevent future problems.
While Trichoderma can be an effective fungicide, it is important to remember that it is a living organism and should be used with care. When applying Trichoderma, avoid direct contact with eyes, skin, and clothing. One must also avoid inhaling the spores of Trichoderma.
In addition to its role as a biocontrol agent, Trichoderma can also be used as a bio-fertilizer. Trichoderma fungi are known to improve plant growth by producing compounds that improve plant resistance to stress, converting fixed nutrients in the soil to plant-available form, and by stimulating the growth of root hairs.
Most importantly, Trichoderma fungi can solubilize fixed phosphate, making them available for plant uptake. Phosphate is an important plant nutrient, but it remains attached to phosphate binders such as calcium, iron, and aluminum in the soil, thus remaining unavailable to plants due to its low solubility. Trichoderma solubilizes fixed phosphate by secreting organic acid and by its chelation and reduction processes. The solubilization of phosphate by Trichoderma fungi makes phosphate readily available for plant uptake, which can lead to increased plant growth.
Trichoderma's ability to solubilize fixed phosphate has a great significance in the environment. If properly used, Trichoderma not only helps enhance soil fertility but can also help reduce phosphorous input. Commercial growers apply an excess amount of phosphorous every year from which only a small part of the input is used by plants. The rest is wasted and eventually leaches out into water bodies, causing eutrophication.
An example is shown in the image below, which is a soil test report from a corn field in Georgia, that did not utilize Trichoderma in their cultivation process, immediately after harvest. This test shows mid to high levels of basically all nutrient elements that remain in the soil even after harvesting the corn, suggesting that the crops were not able to fully absorb and utilize the available nutrients in the surrounding soil.
Table 1. Soil test after a corn harvest.
In addition to their role in improving plant nutrition, Trichoderma fungi can also improve plant resistance to stress. They produce compounds that protect plants against heat, drought, and metal toxicity, all of which can restrict plant growth. Trichoderma fungi also promote plant growth by stimulating the growth of root hairs. Root hairs are important for plant nutrition and water-uptake. Trichoderma fungi stimulate the growth of root hairs by secreting compounds that promote cell division and cell elongation.
The use of Trichoderma as a bio-fertilizer is a sustainable practice that can improve plant growth and help protect the environment. If you are interested in using Trichoderma to improve your soil health, you can check out our other post regarding the use of Mikro-Root (our Trichoderma-based product) here, or you can check out Mikro-Root here, or you can also contact Microbial Applications or your local extension office for more information.
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