Growing 101: Plant Biology Basics

By Shannon McKee
Published: December 27, 2016 | Last updated: April 20, 2021 11:25:37
Key Takeaways

To become a master gardener, you must first learn how plants work, and then put that knowledge to work for you. Here’s a quick biology lesson.

Source: Sofiaworld/

As a gardener, you already know the basics of plant biology. Seeds become seedlings and seedlings grow into plants. You can probably also identify the roots, stems and leaves of your plants. But do you know how to put plant biology to work for you? This quick plant part rundown will help.



Seeds are amazing little gifts from Mother Nature. Each one contains the blueprints for a whole plant and a few nutrients to get that plant off to a good start. Seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place that is out of direct sunlight until you are ready to germinate them, otherwise germination rates may be impacted.

When starting seeds, some have thick seed coats to protect the precious contents and can benefit from being dampened a bit before planting to encourage the coats to open.


Depending on the plant type, some seeds destined for outdoor gardens may need to be started indoors. Once seeds have started growing root systems and developing leaves, it’s important to fertilize the new plants.

At the seedling stage of life, a plant has seed leaves called cotyledons, an embryonic shoot called the hypocotyl and an embryonic root called the radicle.

Cotyledons are generally rounded, whereas true leaves are more distinct to the species of the plant. True leaves will grow higher on the stem, above the cotyledons. The cotyledons will eventually fall off, leaving just the true leaves to begin the photosynthesis process.


Seedlings do well when provided with 14-16 hours of sunlight per day. They are susceptible to diseases, pests, rough handling and environmental factors like temperature swings and humidity levels. Because seedlings are fragile, it is important to wait at least until the first pair of true leaves appear before transplanting them.

You may want to provide some shade for your newly transplanted seedlings if your weather is particularly hot or arid. There are some concentrates available that also help with transplant shock.



There are two types of root systems. Plants with taproots have one main root, which is typically the radicle all grown up, with branch roots supporting the main root. Plants with fibrous roots have root systems that branch out instead of a main root.

Roots bring nutrients and water to the plant. To do so, they continue to grow deeper and spread out to gain access to more nutrients and water, so a healthy root system is vital.

To give roots a fighting chance, extra care should be taken when preparing an area for planting or transplanting to make sure roots can easily spread out on the hunt for sustenance.

Unlike the leaves, stems and flowers, it can be easy to forget about the roots of a plant and the vital role that they play because they are hidden deep in the earth, but they should not be forgotten when it comes to providing much-needed moisture and nutrients.


The stem of a plant is the sturdy structure that connects the roots with the leaves. The stem includes both the xylem and the phloem. The xylem transports the water and nutrients that the roots bring in, and the phloem transports the sugars that are made during photosynthesis.

The stem helps the plant reach towards a light source and it can even change direction to gain more light. It has to be sturdy since it helps provide support to the plant, but if it does end up busted, there are two ways to possibly save your plants.

You can graft the stem back together, which sometimes works in cases when the stem wasn’t broken completely off, or you can use the broken stem to create a clone.


The leafy portion of the plant is where the magic of photosynthesis happens. During photosynthesis, the sun shines and the chloroplasts absorb the blue and red wavelengths. This light, along with water and carbon dioxide, produces sugar and oxygen.

The water, nutrients and sugars flow through the xylem and phloem, and oxygen is released from the leaves.

Because leaves are vital to the photosynthesis process, a plant with a poor leaf structure is not going to do well. This is one area that needs to be guarded against pests and other damages religiously so the plant will thrive.


Flowers, fruits or vegetables are probably the whole reason you have a garden in the first place. They are the spectacular end result for both you and the plant. For the plant, it’s all about ensuring the next generation.

Plants produce flowers for pollination. After pollination occurs, seeds are formed. The seeds are protected in a variety of seed dispersal methods, such as a succulent tomato or a ripe apple.

Deadheading old flowers is a great idea for both annuals and perennials, as doing so tells the plant to produce more beautiful blooms. This is also a good idea for spring-blooming bulbs, as it allows the plant to put the energy back into the bulb and not into seeds.

Newly transplanted or younger perennial plants, such as strawberries, may also benefit from removing the flower buds before they bloom, which makes the plant focus more on growing a healthy, secure root system along with healthy stems and leaves.

Frequent harvesting works in the same manner as deadheading, as it keeps your plants producing more crops. Towards the end of your growing season, it’s a good idea to deadhead any new flowers, as that gets the plant to put more energy into growing the produce that is currently growing.

Now that you’ve got the scoop on plant biology basics, it’s time to start using this knowledge to get your plants growing like crazy. From the roots, leaves and stems to the flowers, a special knowledge of how plants work will help you achieve maximum yields from healthy plants.


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Written by Shannon McKee | Freelance Writer, Gardener

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Shannon McKee lives in Ohio and has been a freelance writer for several years now, including on her blog, Nicknamed by loved ones a garden hoarder over the past few years, she grows a wide variety of plants in her urban garden.

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