Healthy roots are essential to your planting and growing success. In this article, we discuss the role roots play in a plant’s life, how to keep them healthy, and what to do to prevent and protect against potential problems.
We grow many of our potted berries, plants and trees using our exclusive Stark® EZ Start® System. As part of this program, we use unique bottomless pots. That way, as the roots grow out the bottom, the root system is naturally air pruned. The tap root is severed, and new roots are forced to grow within the container.
This creates a dense mass of roots, allowing the trees to be transplanted and established more quickly and easily. Bare root (not potted) plants also rely on their healthy root systems to grow and become well established in your yard.
Roots play an important role in a plant’s nutrient intake, similar to its leaves with photosynthesis — a system of converting light energy into food for your plant to feed on. While it is the leaves that enable this process, the roots help to bring soil nutrients through the vascular system of the plant and store nutrients during dormant periods.
When transplanting a new plant, many people forget about the roots and worry that a lack of top growth (the part that stays above the ground) means that the plant is too small or weak to survive. In fact, it’s just the opposite! Long elaborate leafy tops are not ideal for transplanting, since they require continued sustenance to grow. This puts additional stress on a new plant, because it needs to focus its energy on getting established at planting time. Even if top growth isn’t excessive, having a mass of strong, healthy roots will encourage a plant to put on more top growth once it becomes established in its new environment. That’s why we pre-prune our bare-root fruit trees before shipping them out to you. Check out Pre-Pruning Fruit Trees for an article and video with more information about this process.
Just as it is essential to understand the importance of healthy roots, it is also necessary to recognize symptoms of unhealthy roots. Roots transfer nutrients and water to the rest of the plant and, if there is an issue with the soil, you will usually notice a change in the top growth of your plant.
One sign of a potential problem is the yellowing of leaves, or chlorosis — a decrease in the normal green color of leaves of plants. This can be caused by many root-related problems like a lack of soil nutrients, incorrect pH (blocks intake of necessary soil nutrients), over-watering, and more.
Even though roots are located under ground, they still require air to remain healthy. If a plant’s location does not drain properly, it will retain water and the roots will suffocate. There are ways to test the planting site (ideally prior to planting) like Digital Soil Meters so that any issues may be addressed. Amendments, like using Coco-Fiber Potting Medium to enhance your soil, will help to avoid future root issues. Learn more about preventative measures to avoid planting in a location that retains water in our article, Plan Ahead for Rainy Weather.
Animal damage, like that caused by voles, can severely affect healthy root systems and prove fatal for any plants, even an established one. These animals feed on the root systems of plants, which causes what may appear to be water-stress, chlorosis, and other issues. They also tunnel around the root systems, causing additional damage or even leaving a plant loose in the ground. There are certain non-toxic repellents that act as irritants to help ward off damage-causing animals, like voles, rabbits, and deer and protect your plants as well as their roots.
Whether you’re planting something new or caring for an old favorite, don’t forget to keep the roots in mind. If they are healthy and properly cared for, you’ll have much more success when it comes time for your plant to bloom or bear.