Happy roots, happy plants

RAISE THE ROOT: HAPPY ROOTS, HAPPY PLANTS

As new gardeners, the parts of the plant that mainly interest us are everything above ground — the flowers, the leaves, the fruits and veggies. But more experienced gardeners know that all those beautiful above-ground features are possible because of something below ground: roots. Root health, although admittedly not the sexiest of garden topics, is imperative because this is the way the plant accesses food and water and remains stabilized in the soil. And that begs the question: What can you do to ensure root health? Read on!

Ensure healthy roots before you buy. When you’re at the garden center, train your eye to spot healthy roots. Turn the pot on its side and gently slide the plant out — if it comes out very quickly, the roots may not be established well enough. Can’t get the plant out? It may be root-bound — pass on either, as well as roots growing around in a circle. Healthy roots should be white or tan, plump-looking, and spread out from the base of the plant.

Plant correctly. Dig an adequately-sized hole for the plant you are using, remove the plant from the garden center container, and gently loosen the roots (you know the drill, but sometimes we get lazy when we’re planting and forget this step).

Create loose soil. Compacted soil has poor texture, and will be a difficult growing medium for most plants. Know the type of soil you have (rocky, clay, loamy) and amend it accordingly.

Add plenty of organic matter. Dead soil has no nutrients, and no nutrients means your plants’ roots are on a starvation diet. That’s a no-good situation, so hold up your right hand and repeat after me: “I will add compost regularly to my soil.” Repeat 3x while clicking your heels. Oh, and another thing — I feel duty-bound to remind you to use organic products rather than fast-acting synthetic fertilizers. Your goal should always be soil health first, which will support the health of the plant, and organic soil amendments like compost are the best way to ensure this.

Provide adequate water. If you’ve done all the above steps, your soil should be in good shape to absorb water and deliver it where it needs to go — you got it, the roots. Remember to water deeply (no lame sprinkling allowed here, you guys), as most plants need about 1” of water per week to stay healthy and hydrated.

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