Roots: Treasure hidden beneath the surface


Roots: Treasure hidden beneath the surface

Until learning about plant roots in school, who would have guessed that something buried beneath the soil and invisible to the naked eye would play such a crucial role in a plant’s survival? We usually admire plants for their lush foliage and colourful blooms that create aesthetic value for our garden and home. This lushness and beauty are all the results of what lies hidden in the ground – the roots – an essential aspect without which the plant cannot simply live.

The root of everything

The growth and development of plants are aided by root systems. Roots help plants draw nutrients, oxygen, and water from the soil for later use in photosynthesis and other metabolic activities. In other words, plants are like factories, and roots provide the required fuel for these factories to operate. Thereby, healthy roots mean healthy plants. 

healthy roots

Healthy roots are usually white or light in colour. Sometimes, they can look like packed noodles.

Of course, signs of potential growth are something to look for when plant shopping. A bushy top growth and lush blooms may give the impression that a plant is healthy and vibrant, but it is the roots that hold the true secret to its vitality and long-term performance. Carefully lift the plant from its nursing container and look at those roots well! It’s also important to be as gentle as possible and not damage its roots while doing this.

Tough as old “roots.” Roots provide anchorage for the plant since vertical roots (especially tap roots) can penetrate even the most compacted soils. They also assist plants in withstanding the forces of wind and running water, and mudslides. For these same reasons, roots play an essential role in preventing soil erosion.

To further improve soil health, plants release compounds from their roots that encourage the growth of beneficial microbial communities that form a symbiotic relationship with the plant. These microorganisms once again promote nutrients that aid in plant growth while protecting the plant from disease.

Damaged root care

plant roots

Be gentle as possible when working with roots.

Despite their reputation as a tough and resilient part of the plant, roots can sometimes be easily damaged for many reasons. For instance, a sudden change in surroundings when transplanting may cause the plant’s roots to suffer from stress or injury. Overwatering, extreme temperatures, pest infestations, and other plant diseases can also affect root health. Thus, preventing it from absorbing nutrients and water generally drawn from the soil. 

rootbound plant

Caught up in a rootbound situation with a healthy and thriving plant.

In response to root damage, the plant will enter a power-saving mode to safeguard its roots. It will divert the energy and resources stored in its stem and leaves to feed its roots instead – the most vital portion of the plant. As a result, you may notice exhibits signs like stunted growth, shrunken leaves, premature yellowing, or leaves dropping within only a few days. But there’s no need to fret! Like humans and animals, plants are resilient beings that can recover from stressful conditions but take longer. If the roots are still alive, there’s still a chance to revive the plant even if its upper parts have withered. 

It is best to trim the dead leaves and any rotting parts of the stem. If the stems are dead, leave them at least two inches above the topsoil; otherwise, cut them back to the plant’s healthiest parts. The next step is to re-pot the plant into fresh soil and give it tender, loving care in a warm, bright place like a glass greenhouse. If you don’t have access to a greenhouse, a transparent glass container with good humidity is a great substitute.

Damaged plant care requires a lot of time and patience, so don’t freak out too soon if you have yet to notice any improvement after a few days of nursing. The damage’s magnitude will determine how long the plant will take to recover. Even when the ideal growth requirements are met, plants still need plenty of time to recuperate from the roots up to the stem and leaves. As the old saying goes, “time heals all wounds,” so it’s best to be patient with your plants.

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