The Absolute Best Beneficial Bacteria for Your Plants

Staff Writer Cultivation

healthy roots in rich composted soil

Using the best beneficial bacteria for plants, you can access an age-old and time-tested function of our world. 

Thought to be the oldest organisms on earth, it’s incredible to think that we are only now beginning to understand how exactly bacteria work with plants. 

With rapidly advancing research, many products combining beneficial bacteria are now available. These bacterial blends and solutions are based on the mutualistic relationships between plants and bacteria. Adding these to your root systems can boost your plant performance. 

With many products available to choose from, how are you supposed to know which is the best for getting the most for your plants? That’s what I’m here to help you figure out. 

What exactly are Beneficial Bacteria?

When it comes to bacteria, their world is incredibly diverse. These microscopic, single-celled organisms come in a number of shapes and sizes (structures) and have different appetites (what types of nutrients or compounds they metabolize). They live everywhere in our world, from the soil to the insides of our stomachs. 

Bacteria can be both good and bad. For our purposes, we are mostly interested in plant growth-promoting bacteria (PGPB). So, they are the good guys for plants. 

These types of bacteria can be used to optimize plant nutrients, regulate hormone production, and help plants resist diseases. They can even help with soil remediation, which is actually making “dead” soil fertile again.

When we look at them closely, there are three basic shapes that bacteria are often classified under:

  • Spherical
  • Rod-Shaped
  • Spiral

How Bacteria Feed Plants

All types of bacteria need to be fed to stay alive. They consume a variety of energy sources including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. 

When bacterial cells in our soil take in these elements, they break them down and convert them into nutrients and energy plants can use. 

For example, you probably know that nitrogen is required by all living forms. Nitrogen makes up the building blocks of amino acids. In turn, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. That’s how humans get their required dose of nitrogen.

When it comes to plants, nitrate is the form of nitrogen plants can consume

Soil bacteria are the key to transforming organic nitrogen in the soil into nitrate for plants. This is a key step in the nitrogen cycle. 

There are many different beneficial plant-bacteria that can transform nitrogen into nitrate or can work together to complete the process. There are two main processes that occur: 

  • Mineralization: Bacteria mineralize organic nitrogen into ammonia: 
    • Organic Nitrogen → Ammonia
  • Nitrification Process: Bacteria complete the nitrification process by converting ammonia: 
    • Ammonia → Nitrite → Nitrate

This is just one example of how bacteria can transform minerals into available food for plants. It’s this ability to break down nutrients that provide plants with essential macro and micronutrients. Without bacteria, plants would starve. 

Coupled with bacteria’s ability to combat plant diseases, bacteria are one of plants most beneficial friends.

Without bacteria, plants wouldn’t be likely to survive in our world. Neither would we

How Do Microorganisms Affect the Quality of Soil?

Microorganisms are the keystone in soil fertility. Their role in biological fertility specifically is complex and contains civilizations of wildly active microbes. An entire system of life too small for the naked eye to see. 

Plus microbes are a key player in the nitrogen cycle and fundamental to the nutrient cycles that help keep our world in balance. 

Since bacteria are the most numerous microorganisms, their role in the quality of soil is essential. What we can do is feed these microbial worlds with bacteria proven to grow healthier rhizosphere microbe populations. The result? We see stronger plants with incredibly effective root systems leading to healthier plants.

What Kinds of Bacteria Benefit Plants

established plants healthy roots

There are potentially a trillion species of microbial life forms, of which we only know a fraction (an estimated and measly one-thousandth of 1 percent). That means we likely only know a small fraction of the types of existing bacteria beneficial to plants. 

Here are a few of the bacteria proven to be beneficial to plants:

  • Rhizobia bacteria live on plant roots creating nodules that convert Nitrogen into a form plants can use.
  • Bacillus species are wide and varied. Their role includes promoting plant life, enzyme production, and increasing growth factors like fruit yield.  
  • Pseudomonas is a rod-shaped bacteria long known for helping to suppress plant diseases. 
  • Enterobacter cloacae is a rod-shaped bacteria that is used to control plant diseases. It can often be found on cucumber, radish, soybean and pea seeds. 
  • Endophytic diazotrophic is nitrogen-fixing, and will even modify the shape and number of root hairs to increase nutrient absorption for plants 
  • Arthrobacter are a coryneform bacteria, meaning they are irregularly shaped. Ubiquitous in the environment, they are powerhouses that can reduce chromium (irritable to humans), degrade agricultural pesticides, and metabolize a variety of substances
  • Burkholderia, certain strains can present benefits to plants. Certain species may pose a benefit to plants by battling against plant infections. 
  • Citrobacter freundii is a rod-shaped bacteria crucial for converting nitrate to nitrite. 

It’s important to note that within the world of bacteria there are many, MANY species and strains. One might be good for one plant and one might be harmful to another. Delving into the world of bacterium can be a complicated and complex puzzle. So when choosing bacteria to use on your plants, sticking with the tried and true is often a better bet than experimenting with new technology. 

So we’ve done the research on some of the top products to help you figure out what will work for you.

Is it Worth Learning How to Make Beneficial Bacteria for Plants?

Many home gardeners and organic growers like to dabble in concocting their own compost tea or bacterial tincture. This can be a very elaborate process when done the right way. So, if you are truly invested why not have a go at learning how to make beneficial bacteria for plants? 

Some common ways to do this are:

  • Brewing a compost tea
  • Mixing molasses with some water and dirt
  • Make a Lactobacillus bacterial solution from rice

However, just as dying your hair is something you certainly can do yourself, things can go wrong real fast. And there isn’t really an entire aisle dedicated to do-it-yourself beneficial bacterial box kits like there is for at-home hair coloring. The reason for that is that the science is much more complex. You don’t want to end up spending lots of time, effort, and energy to cook up something that doesn’t work at all. 

That’s why there is a market for scientifically studied and preformulated beneficial bacteria blends. A prepackaged beneficial bacterial product should be well studied and include strains of bacteria proven to help your plants. Of course, since there is a market, you still need to make sure you carefully vet these products and don’t select one that isn’t clear about their process and which strains are included. 

Comparing Beneficial Bacteria Products 

Beneficial bacteria is certain to up your growth game. Adding bacteria to your rhizosphere is one of many methods to improve nutrient uptake and possibly (depending on the types of bacteria) fight pathogens. 

So what do you need to look for when it comes to determining which is the product for you? 

We are going to hone in on a few important qualities of the top products on the market including bacterial profile, primary nutrients optimized, pathogen protecting, type of media, and cost. 

Amplify

amplify microbial blend

Bacterial profile: Azotobacter Vinelandii, Bacillus Subtilis, Nitrosomonas Europaea, Pseudomonas Fluorescens

Fungal Strain: Glomus Intraradices

Primary nutrients optimized: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, micronutrients

Pathogen protecting: Yes

Type of media: soil, soilless & hydroponic

Cost: $499/gallon = 7000 gallons = $0.07/gallon prepared 

Advantages

  • Includes a fungi for a more balanced microbial blend: Glomus Intraradices
  • The diverse blend of bacteria include strains proven to be beneficial to plants such as Bacillus and Pseudomonas 
  • Ideal for optimizing N-K-P AND micronutrients
  • Built to tackle soil toxins
  • Results in bigger, better buds
  • Increased root production and extended root base
  • Safe for organic crop production

Disadvantages

  • Must maintain healthy root conditions to get the most of the bacterial blend.
  • Must use quality water to create an effective solution. Otherwise, you might destroy the microbes.

Amplify Bacterial Breakdown 

Amplify is one of the most diverse solutions we’ve found in the microbial and rhizosphere supporting “game.” Their inclusion of a fungal strain, while not pertinent to this review, is always a good sign. 

Plus, their blend of bacteria strains includes species long-proven to not only improve your plant health but also battle and protect against pathogens. We’re talking to you bacillus subtilis & pseudomonas fluorescens.

They also include azotobacter vinelandii, which has the highest metabolic rate of any known, living organism. It’s been studied extensively and its active and nitrogen-fixing abilities help kick your plant into gear. Plus it increases rhizobia activity and produces growth-promoting hormones. It has also shown the potential for antifungal activity. The thing we like, is that it has been proven to enhance the nutritional value of crops, straight-up improving vitamin and protein quantity.

The nitrifying bacteria nitrosomonas europaea is an incredible tool in soil repair and remediation. It is tough and can handle synthetic nutrients or survive in harsh environments. Its ability to degrade pollutants makes it incredibly useful considering the increasing damage inflicted on our soils. 

The team behind Amplify has been working for over 20 years on rebuilding soil, so not only do they know what’s good for it but they have seen proven soil recovery using the combination of these bacterial strains. That means that not only do these specific strains help improve nutrient uptake for your plants, but these bacteria will also optimize the existing microbial communities and help populate them. The increase in your microbial populations will further optimize the availability of nutrients and benefits of beneficial microbes. 

Mammoth P 

mammoth p active microbials

Bacterial profile: Enterobacter cloacae, Citrobacter freundii, Pseudomonas putida and Comamonas testosteroni

Primary nutrients optimized: Phosphorous

Pathogen protecting: Yes

Type of media : soil, soilless & hydroponic

Cost: $747.99/gallon = 6308 gallons = $0.11/gallon prepared 

Advantages

  • Designed specifically by researchers who isolated a combination of 4 bacterial strains intended to optimize Phosphorus and micronutrients
  • Larger fruits and increase root development
  • Safe for organic crop production

Disadvantages

  • Expensive
  • Better for larger plants, to increase existing yields
  • Focused on optimizing the primary macronutrient: Phosphorous
  • Some of the bacterial strains pose a problem for humans

Mammoth P Bacterial Breakdown 

Mammoth P is a popular name in the world of microbial or bacterial solutions. Developed by a team of researchers in Colorado, it’s hype is backed by a well-designed website and lots of reviews. The theory is that using a consortium of bacteria that can optimize phosphorus availability will maximize a plant’s overall success. 

When it comes to their bacterial team, they certainly go big. 

For starters, we always support featuring pseudomonas in bacterial blends and pseudomonas putida stars here. It’s a solid favorite in the world of plant growth-promoting bacteria (PGPB).

The bacterial consortia also includes enterobacter cloacae which we mentioned in our initial list of bacteria. Often used to control plant diseases, it is also a bit of a wild card. 

In 2018, researchers in Mexico found enterobacter cloacae the causal agent of a disease infecting chili peppers. On the other hand, bananas really like this bacteria and have developed a nutrient-transfer symbiosis with it. So, while it can certainly help some plants in your garden grow, it might negatively affect others. Make sure it’s the right bacteria for the plants you are growing before using Mammoth P. 

In other news, you might be interested to know that human bodies don’t like this bacteria very much. Their blend includes citrobacter freundii, another bacteria human bodies don’t get along with. In the environment though, it is absolutely essential for converting nitrate to nitrite. There are not many studies isolating it to determine its benefit to plants. However, it is a regular fixture in our world as part of the nitrogen cycle. 

Lastly, we have comamonas testosteroni, a well-known soil bacterium. However, we don’t know much about how it actually helps plants, or the studies are limited. The team of researchers who developed Mammoth P claim it is a crucial component to increasing the bioavailable phosphorus.

Tribus 

tribus bacterial trio

Bacterial profile: Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, Bacillus pumilus

Primary nutrients optimized: Nitrogen; Manganese and Iron (during veg and bloom stages)

Pathogen protecting: Not Specified, but should be

Type of media: soil, soilless & hydroponic

Cost: 499.99/gallon = 3785 gallons (@ 1 ml/gal) = $0.13/gallon prepared 

Advantages

  • Highest concentration of bacteria at 10 billion CFU/mL
  • Bacillus strains regulate the intracellular phytohormone metabolism and increases plant stress tolerance
  • Improves plant growth rate, quality and yield
  • Does not cause biofilm in hydroponics
  • Good for seedlings

Disadvantages

  • Less variety in bacteria strains
  • Not very clear what nutrients it optimizes

Tribus Bacterial Breakdown 

Tribus’s claim to fame is that they offer the highest concentration of bacteria on the market. And they do, when you add up each of the separate concentrations of each bacteria. 

They also have the highest price point for their prepared solution. 

When it comes to the bacteria, the Tribus blend hones in on the power of plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) in the bacillus species. These types of bacteria are known to be spore-forming, induce resistance to stress, and promote overall tolerance. Their trio includes:


One limitation we see right off the bat is that these are all bacteria in the same family. That doesn’t mean the trio won’t be powerful or effective, but it certainly limits the overarching goal of adding a diverse microbe blend. 

Another thing that strikes us as odd, for some reason Tribus can’t be sold in California.

Sea Green 

sea green compost tea extract

Bacterial profile: Unclear → compost extract

Primary nutrients optimized: Nitrogen, Phosphorous

Pathogen protecting: Unclear

Type of media: Soil, hydroponic, foliar

Cost: 359.95/gallon = 3785 gallons (@ 1 ml/gal) = $0.09/gallon prepared 

Advantages

  • An extract derived from “the most fertile soils on earth.” 
  • “Compost Tea” extract
  • Increase nutrient uptake
  • Good for all states of plant growth

Disadvantages

  • If using in hydroponics it can foam up 
  • The actual product components are unclear

Sea Green Bacterial Breakdown 

Sea Green calls itself a compost tea extract. We think of it like an “instant” compost tea. Which makes us think of instant coffee. If you like that kind of coffee it might be for you. 

Of course, compost tea alone is a great tool many farmers use on their plants. So, the concept is understandable. These types of solutions are teeming with natural, rich microbial life. The thing with Sea Green’s solution is that it isn’t clear to us what exactly is in it. 

The statement about the extract indicates it comes from the “most fertile soils on earth and multiple natural compost sources.”  Meaning soils with a desirable biochemical balance. It claims the application will increase plant health and vigor. Plus it can buffer against salt and high EC conditions. 

We did uncover that they state their solution is derived from “fish protein hydrolysate.” Upon further look, we discovered that there is research showing that fish protein hydrolysates or FPHs have been shown to promote microbial growth. 

The price point is low and it can be used during all stages of plant growth. However, proof of bacterial strains is unclear. 

The Best Beneficial Bacteria for Plants

beneficial bacteria for plants

When it comes to choosing the best beneficial bacteria for your plants, you want to get the most for your money, the most diverse blend, and the safest yet potent blend available. Our pick is Organitek’s Amplify. Not only is it the most affordable, but it also presents the most diverse collection of bacterial strains with records proven for safety and success. 

Keep in mind that when it comes to microbial populations in the rhizosphere, there are millions of organisms doing millions of things. So focusing on only optimizing one facet or adding one bacteria means you are missing out on the benefits of others. That doesn’t mean those other bacterial blends won’t work. It just might mean you have to do something else to balance out the system. 

In Sum

Worms, bees, birds, and other creatures work with plants to help each other survive. They assist in creating healthier soil and propagating seeds.

An essential part of their success and the success of natural systems includes nurturing microbial populations. We can do this by giving our plants bacteria and watching them flourish. 

Remember, microbes include a whole host of microscopic species including bacteria, fungi, and more that are crucial to cycling essential nutrients plants need. So don’t forget to tap into those other microbial powerhouses as well! To boost your garden success, make sure to use the most diverse and best beneficial bacteria or microbial solutions proven to grow stronger, healthier plants. 

Resources:

FAO of the UN - Plant Production and Protection

Frontiers in Microbiology - Effects of Plant Growth-Promoting Bacteria

MicrobeWiki - Pseudomonas

ScienceDaily.com - Earth may be home to one trillion species

Oregon State University - Burkholderia bacteria

AcademicJournals.org - Ecophysiology of plant growth promoting bacteria

US National Library of Medicine - Effects of soil...


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