Growing healthy roots

Red bell peppers growing

Taking care of plants may seem fairly straightforward on the surface. You throw some soil or coco in a pot, wait for it to grow, and then reap the rewards, right?

Well, not quite. Like us, plants are living things and require very particular and delicate care in order to grow and thrive. This doesn’t just mean watering them on time or making sure they get plenty of sunlight, either; caring for plant roots and using proper potting practices can go a long way to make sure your plants are happy, ensuring you get a great harvest.

Why are Roots Important?

Illustration of a plant with roots

Now, you might ask yourself, "How do plant roots usually grow?" Simply put, a plant instinctively knows that it needs nutrition, so it will grow roots- an entire root system, in fact- to mine for nutrients in your medium.

That's why if you want your plants to be vibrant and beautiful, you need to understand how to keep their roots healthy. The roots keep plants in place and are the main way your plants receive oxygen, water, and nutrients. Without healthy roots, your plants are as good as dead.

More specifically, the roots of a plant play a critical role in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis occurs when the sunlight absorbed by the plant combines with carbon dioxide and water to create sugars that can be converted into energy. These sugars are converted into Adenosine Triphosphate (known as ATP), which works with the nutrients found in the soil and around the plant to make sure it has a nice, healthy body and color.

If your roots get sick, your entire plant is sick. It’s that simple.

Roots need to Breathe -- Let them Breathe

One of the most basic parts of root care -- and plant care as a whole -- is making sure there’s plenty of oxygen available. After all, in order for the roots to generate ATP, they need their breathing room.

So how do we do that?

Here are some ways you can help keep airflow to roots going:

If you are using a pot, try to use a smart pot. This isn’t necessary for the survival of the plants, but smart pots are porous and allow oxygen to get in from the sides. This helps the roots of plants breathe a little better than if they were in traditional hard pots. Smart pots like fabric pots also allow your roots to be air pruned, resulting in more root growth and in turn, stronger plant growth than in other pots where roots can get bound (which is never a good thing).

Don’t overwater. If you’re using soil, try to let the soil get a little dry between waterings; when it’s oversaturated, it doesn’t breathe as well. Be careful to keep the breed of the plant in mind, though; some plants need more water than others. Refer to a growing guide or plant encyclopedia if you’re stumped about your plants’ precise watering needs.

If you're using hydroponics for indoor growing, make sure plant roots receive oxygen. That means making sure they have enough time between floods to breathe, or you’re oxygenating the water roots sit in with a bubbler.

Try to use organic soils and implement Mycelium, if you can. You may not have heard of it before, but mycorrhizae and plant roots is a pretty important idea to strong roots and plants.

Mycelium is the substance that mushrooms sprout from, forming a symbiotic relationship with the base plant. Plants give carbon to mycelium; mycelium, in turn, helps give nutrients and leads the roots to water. This process is called “mycorrhiza”; it is an extremely important process with keeping healthy, breathing roots. In turn, this helps plant roots in their search for nutrition. It can even help mine for nutrients the roots of a plant normally cannot.


The Basics of Watering

Depending on what you’re growing, watering needs will vary. Some plants will require more water than others, and some might not need much water at all.

In the garden watering a plant

Still, here are some basic guidelines to follow if you’re growing in soil and coco:

Water until the medium is moist. Don’t let water seep out the top or overflow. Water just enough to where you know that all of the medium is moist, and let it be. It can be tempting to keep watering, especially if you’re new to outdoor or indoor plant growing, but exercising a little restraint will take you a long way.

Don’t let your pots sit in water. Whether you’re in solid or smart pots, do not let your plants sit in water. Not only can this cause root rot, but that water can also quickly become a hotbed for disease and parasites. If you’re letting your pots sit in a saucer and water starts to gather, drain the saucer before putting the pot back on it.

For hydroponically grown plants, make sure to keep the water oxygenated with an air pump so that it doesn’t stagnate. If it does, it’ll be a hotbed for disease and bacteria, and if you’re feeding that to your plants your crop can be in serious danger.

Roots underwater in a tank

The bigger the plant, the bigger your watering radius. You’re going to want to water around the plant and keep your watering even. Spacing out your watering as the plant grows will encourage the roots to seek the edges of the pot.

Hydro plants don’t have much of an issue in this area, though you will want to make sure that all plants get an equal amount of water. If pumps and valves aren’t working as they should, some plants may not get the nutrition they need.

Keep a consistent temperature. Don’t let it get too hot or cold!

Much like people, plants have their own ideal climates. For photosynthesis, the best temperature is around 77 degrees Fahrenheit (about 25 degrees Celsius). If your plants are in a carbon dioxide-heavy environment, this can go up, upwards of around 82 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 28 degrees Celsius).

If your indoor grow room is getting too hot, try dimming your lights or increasing ventilation around where you’re growing them. If that doesn’t work, you may want to move them to a more shaded space so they don’t get too warm.

Because gardens are living, breathing spaces, issues against cold usually don’t come up indoors unless you’re in a basement or outdoor shed. Still, if things get too cold for your plants, lower the speed of your ventilation to keep the breeze down to a minimum. If temperatures are still too cool, consider adding a small heating element to your growing area.

Consider your plant’s space

Plants can die if they don’t have the space they need. The plant roots will tangle, causing the plant to strangle itself. If the pot is too small, you’re going to want to consider transferring your plant to a larger pot.

To know if your plant is too big for its pot, check the drainage holes. If you see the roots crossing over them, then it’s about time for you to move your plant before it kills itself. When you transfer to another pot, consider getting a pot of a larger size than you may need. This allows the plant to grow into the pot and encourages healthy, robust roots.

If you’re planting in open soil, you don’t have to worry so much about transferring plants but make sure not to plant plants too close to one another, as the roots can intertwine and they can suffocate one another.

The same thing applies to hydroponically grown plants. If the space your roots are watered in is too small, not only will they start to fight for nutrients, they’ll also start to rot. When that happens your crop’s as good as gone.

Make sure your plants have plenty of room and everything they need to grow a big, breathable, healthy network of roots. When roots are happy plants are happy, and when they’re happy they’ll give you the yield you’re looking for.

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