How to Keep Your Plants Healthy
We all want to keep our plants healthy. However, when we see leaves that don’t look quite right, many of us overlook some of the more common potential sources of the troubles: problems in the soil or roots.
The well-being of the invisible part of your crop—the roots—is as crucial to overall plant health. In fact, problems in the root system can often be the cause of yield reduction or plant loss in indoor gardens. In hydroponic systems, a disease in one plant’s root system can quickly spread throughout the entire crop, as all the plants share the same recycling nutrient solution.
In this case, daily vigilance is key to keeping new issues in check. In fact, anytime you can visibly inspect your crop’s roots in any system, your chances of getting things on the right track again are much better (this is something you can take into consideration when you first select the type of system you intend to employ).
So, what’s going on in the roots? These fibrous tissues that feed water, nutrients and oxygen into the plant are made mostly of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. They are also responsible for providing physical stability for the plant. Too often, the oxygen part of these functions is overlooked and that’s where trouble can begin quickly. Like us, plants will suffer and die much quicker without air than without water. Having the right balance in your system, regardless if it’s hydroponic or soil, is vital.
Healthy roots should be continually growing—as the older roots die off, new ones take their place. A healthy roots system will have lots of new, white furry looking strings everywhere. As they mature, they grow in size, as well as often modify their color and lose a lot of the furriness that is key to nutrient uptake.
This is why the life-death cycle within the roots is so important; some amount of root death is appropriate and is part of the regeneration process. Don’t confuse a normal amount of death with a sign of disease. However, if you are making a habit of observing these things routinely, you will be able to recognize when something is off. As such, don’t make too many changes too often; you’ll never get used to what things should look like.
The temperature of the root system can certainly have a major impact on its health—the yield will suffer even if there are no other visible effects. Also, when the temperature fluctuates too much, it can bring on the likelihood of disease. If the roots are in a liquid solution, try to keep it around 70°F. This concept also applies to roots in soil, but usually the only way to control soil temperature is by controlling the ambient air temperature in the grow room.
Oxygen, as mentioned earlier is a major player in the health of the plant’s roots. In soil, lack of oxygen stifles beneficial bacteria and promotes harmful varieties. When a soil or nutrient solution becomes anaerobic (lacking sufficient oxygen), root disease or rot starts quickly and the root system shuts down. When this happens, water is not taken up by the plant and the plant can look like it’s drying out. So, ask yourself: Is there decomposing organic material in the nutrient solution? Are there too many plants competing for the air supply?
Of course, the techniques required to supply adequate oxygen to the roots vary depending on the type of system. Methods include having a dependable and adequate air pump, making sure your trays are sloped for good drainage, making sure your soil pot has adequate drain holes and not watering too often. There are also chemical oxygenators that you can buy to help supply an added amount of this precious element to the nutrient solution.
Feeding is the next thing to consider. Too much of most nutrients can actually be toxic to plants. So, carefully read the label of the fertilizer you use and avoid combining different nutrients unless they indicate that this is acceptable. For example, adding a fertilizer with nitrogen in it to one that already has a healthy does of nitrogen can overstimulate or kill plants. If you want to increase the level of a nutrient to your crop, try doing it more gradually. On the other hand, remember that forgetting to fertilize your plants is going to result in loss of yield, if not loss of entire plants.
The microbial life within your root environment is key to helping your plants make the best use of the nutrients that you give it. These bacteria and fungi convert the nutrients you supply into a form that the plants can absorb and uptake. Without them, the whole process stops. These healthy beneficial microbes not only help feed your plant, but fight off the damaging pathogens.
So, obviously there are quite a number of issues important in keeping your plant’s root systems healthy, but are there other areas that you can influence or control to give you healthier plants? Yes; catch pests early. Pests include insects and bacterial, fungal and viral infections, and each of these problems can be reduced substantially when daily inspections and immediate follow-up is practiced.
Have and use a good magnifying glass so you can really see what’s going on, and be sure to check out the water reservoir and nutrient solution. In other words, visit and enjoy your plants frequently, and you’ll be rewarded in many ways.
Outdoor gardens, though they are exposed to a lot of different outdoor pests, get a little help from nature. The rain and wind get rid of a large percentage of the pest population, and beneficial insects are typically present to control the leftover unwanted pests. Indoor hydroponic gardens, though not generally exposed to all these pests, do have the disadvantage of having so many plants grouped together in one area.
This really increases the chance for insects or disease to spread more rapidly. So, prevention is your key. Don’t let the problems get a good start to begin with. Cleanliness and organization will be big in helping to prevent all kinds of pests. Here are some tips on some things you can do:
How to Keep Your Plants Healthy When Growing Indoors
- Don’t bring your houseplants into the growroom to share the grow light. This increases the chance for a shared infection.
- Don’t go into your indoor growroom after working in your outdoor garden, as this increases the chance of introducing pests. Do it the other way around.
- Keep your tools for indoor gardening separate and clean.
- Keep the humidity at the low end, say 40 to 60%, and avoid letting the ambient air temperature from getting too high. Try to keep it below 80°. Good ventilation will help with both of these issues.
- After your crops are harvested, thoroughly clean the equipment. Tent walls, pots and other equipment in the growroom can harbor a multitude of pests. Mild dish soap will remove most of the pests. And don’t forget to disinfect. Isopropyl alcohol kills only a small spectrum of disease; use 10% diluted bleach before rinsing.
How to Keep Your Plants Healthy When Growing Outdoors & Other Considerations
- Wash your hands between dealing with different crops, especially if you noticed any type of pest/disease.
- Remove dead leaves (pests thrive in decaying material).
- Always clean a tool immediately after dealing with a plant you suspect is infected with disease or insects.
- Remove and dispose of sick plants immediately.
- Don’t overwater! Plants need oxygen as much as moisture. For success, you’ll need to find a balance for your watering practices. Always water deeply, but never too often.
- Don’t visit your gardens directly after coming from a plant nursery. You never know what pests you might have come into contact with.
Keeping your plants healthy is the best way to maximize your yield and avoid heartbreaking catastrophes. Lots of little things are what it takes to succeed. This work is not complicated, and it can sure be relaxing and satisfying.
Written by Frank Rauscher | Writer, Owner of Garden Galaxy