Soil biota provide a number of key ecological services to natural and agricultural ecosystems. Increasingly, inoculation of soils with beneficial soil biota is being considered as a tool to enhance plant productivity and sustainability of agricultural ecosystems. However, one important bottleneck is the establishment of viable microbial populations that can persist over multiple seasons. Here, we explore the factors responsible for establishment of the beneficial soil fungi, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), which can enhance the yield of a wide range of agricultural crops. We evaluate field application potential and discuss ecological and evolutionary factors responsible for application success. We identify three factors that determine inoculation success and AM fungal persistence in soils: species compatibility (can the introduced species thrive under the imposed circumstances?); field carrying capacity (the habitat niche available to AMF); and priority effects (the influence of timing and competition on the establishment of alternative stable communities). We explore how these factors can be employed for establishment and persistence of AMF. We address the importance of inoculum choice, plant choice, management practices and timing of inoculation for the successful manipulation of the resulting AMF community.