Fungi and Fungicides

Fungi are plants that feed on other plants, living, or dead. They reproduce by means of 'spoors', small (microscopic) seeds which are distributed by the wind, or water. Should a spoor be able to enter your tree, perhaps through a cut or other wound, it will begin the process of breaking down the tissue, killing the tree. Modern fungicides will get rid of an established fungus, but often, by the time you notice the fungus, the damage is done. They are best used to prevent fungi from becoming established, or to control their spread. Fungi are quite common in all kinds of gardens and especially with fruit trees, which need to be sprayed routinely.

'Mildew' and 'Black spot', are two of the most common fungi you will come across and unlike their mushroom producing cousins do not invade and eat the tree. Mildew coats leaves with a pale blue/grey powder, while black spot (beloved of rose growers) peppers small and sometimes not so small black patches over the leaves. Both reduce the leaves ability to produce energy for the tree and may, in extreme cases kill the tree.

Both are readily removed with commonly available fungicides, however the leaves will never return to a good condition and are best removed. My own preference is for the 'Fixed Copper' fungicides, commonly known as Bordeaux mixture, Bordeaux Mix, copper dust or liquid copper. They will leave a powdery residue which is difficult to remove, but will not actually harm the tree.

They are usually sold as a concentrate in wettable powder form. Basically is's a mixture of copper sulphate and hydrated lime which gets its name from years of use in the French vineyards. As the mixture contains only 'natural' ingredients, it may be considered organic.

Not all fungi have the typical mushroom fruiting body, many have the round fruit shown here

Or the 'Puff ball' Fungus shown here, which ia about 12" long.

 

Mycorrhiza

Not all fungi are harmful to your trees, all plants have a symbiotic root fungus called Mycorrhiza which benefits the tree. It can usually be seen as a thin white sheet around the roots on repotting and is particularly noticeable on Pines.

Mycorrhiza becomes an active part of the root system, transferring nutrients into the root system in exchange for sugars from the plant, indeed there is strong evidence that mycorrhiza acts as a pathway for nutrients from adult trees in the forest to seedlings on the forest floor.

A pot full of Mycorrhiza can be difficult to get water into.

Here we have the mycorrhiza fruiting in one of my pots. The natural response from gardeners is to panic if they see this, I'd panic if I didn't, it's the sign of a healthy tree in a healthy environment.

 

The main part of the fungus is hidden, the Hyphae, or strands. They are similar to the roots of other plants in structure, but there are millions of them.

The illustration to the right shows typical fungi, with the mushrooms, the fruiting bodies, above ground. The strands, the hyphae are in the soil, but also form the mushrooms, and as we saw above they can be seen as a whitish filament.

Here we see a bracket fungus, a sure sign of trouble ahead for the tree. The red dust is the spoors and a wind will spread them throughout the forest. If one should get into a wound on another tree, it could start to destroy it.

Damping Off

Damping off, which kills seedlings, is caused by a fungal attack. The shoot forms a dark patch in the stem, just above the soil level and then the plant collapses and dies.

If you are growing plants from seed, you should water the seeds with a fungicide added as per the instructions on the packet.

'Damping off', on a pine seedling

Allen. C. Roffey 22:00 22/05/2018