Plants growing in a soil environment are part of a rich ecosystem that includes diverse and numerous microorganisms found naturally in the soil. Soil microbes are infinitesimally small but astronomically abundant (just one gram of soil can contain several billion microbes) and include various forms of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, archaea, and fungi. Soil microbes are beneficial to plant health in many ways and perform fundamental, important functions.

Functions of Soil Microbes

The biology of soil is critical for healthy soil and plants, and microscopic microbes play a multifaceted role in providing a long list of benefits in either soil or soilless grow media which include:

  • Fighting against disease-causing organisms
  • Inducing the plant’s own disease-resistant system
  • Coating surfaces of roots to protect against harmful pathogens
  • Transforming nutrients into forms available for plant uptake
  • Producing chemicals and hormones that stimulate the formation of roots and development of shoots
  • Filtering out contaminants in the soil such as heavy metals
  • Inhibiting parasitic growth
  • Increasing organic matter in the soil
  • Mobilizing iron which is important for metabolic plant processes
  • Enhancing tolerance for drought
  • Decomposing pollutants in soil

Soil microbes perform these indispensable, multifaceted functions that support plant growth, nutrient cycling, quality, and yield of crops.

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Microbial Consortia, How Microbes Work Together

Many different groups of microbial species work together to perform these functions and support plant growth more effectively than anyone soil microbe could do alone. Microbial consortia is the foundation of all ecosystems as no plants growing in a natural environment could exist without a consortium of soil microbes converting macronutrients into forms available for plant uptake and supporting plant health, growth, and success. Microbial consortia are more effective than single microbial species at supporting plant growth and success for many reasons. The most important reason is that nutrient cycling requires a variety of metabolic pathways which no one single microbial species could carry out alone.

These pathways include complex networks of biochemical reactions as well as electrical signaling that are used to coordinate a variety of processes. The communication occurring within the consortium of microbes is referred to as quorum sensing. Sophisticated networks of microbes produce specific compounds that relate their activity and density in a particular environment. When a satisfactory amount of microbes are detected, they automatically trigger a physiological alteration to initiate the next step in the cycling of nutrients. These physiological triggers are essential as microbial consortia work together although they are useless for single microbes alone.

The Future of Soil Microbes Versus Chemical Fertilizers

As the agricultural industry has focused for many years on chemical fertilizers to optimize plant health and crop yield, many of these practices have been shown to cause negative environmental consequences and degradation of soil. Technologies to support the use of soil microbes and microbial consortia are being researched and utilized to support plant health and yield. Harnessing the natural power of microbial consortia is now considered to be one of the most critical innovations in agricultural practices to support plant health, quality, development, and yield in many crops.

There are many strategies available to manage soil microbes ranging from including beneficial microbes in the form of commercial products or inoculants to suppressing harmful microbes through processes such as anaerobic disinfestation, soil steaming, and soil fumigation. Common practices in use for crop management often target agronomic requirements which simultaneously affect soil microbial consortia such as crop rotation, tilling, adding manure, compost, or mulch.

Soil microbes are shown to increase the availability of nutrients, stimulate plant growth, and reduce harmful pathogens from destroying your plants. Microbes can also be used to offer benefits to hydroponic growers to help control or eradicate pathogens, and to enhance yields through enzyme production, hormone stimulation, and other mechanisms. Remember to start with quality cannabis seeds for quality plants, and care for your plants with careful monitoring, nutrition, watering, and lighting.

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