Plant Roots and Nutrients

Most people think the plant roots they see sticking out of the ground, or just under the ground, are the roots supplying the plant with food and water. These roots are only there to keep the plant in the ground. The bigger the plant (eg. a tall tree) the bigger, deeper and wider will the big roots go to hold that tree upright in the ground.

Plant Roots and Nutrients

Most people think the plant roots they see sticking out of the ground, or just under the ground, are the roots supplying the plant with food and water. These roots are only there to keep the plant in the ground. The bigger the plant (eg. a tall tree) the bigger, deeper and wider will the big roots go to hold that tree upright in the ground.
In Bromeliads (eg. Pineapples) the roots are a minor item just keeping the plant upright and have little effect in water and nutrient uptake. Bromeliads take in almost all of their nutrients from the solution at the base of each leaf where it holds water and any organic matter that drops into it.

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The main method of nutrient uptake in most plants is in fact the root hairs. These are lateral extensions of a single cell of the epidermis on the fine roots of the plant which increase the surface area for absorption of water and mineral nutrients via osmosis.

This means that if these root hairs are broken (eg. the plant is pulled out of the ground to check if it is growing OR it is burnt off by fertilizer that sucks the cell-sap out of the cells in the root hair) then that root hair is killed and it will take another three days for a replacement to grow and be effective in allowing water and nutrients to be absorbed again.
The type of fertilizer that causes the most damage is the chemical type (eg. Sulphate of Ammonia, Urea, Potassium Nitrate, etc) as these have high concentrations of chemical salts which suck the cell sap out of the root hair, burning off that root hair. Slow release fertilizers (eg. Osmacote, Nutricote, etc) by their nature release a small amount of fertilizer each day and so have minimal burning of the root hairs.
Better still; feed your plants with natural fertilizer from your kitchen waste by planting a Compot in your garden or composting by other methods. Natural is always better.

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Today’s Did You Know…?

Banana skins, coffee grounds and tea bags are excellent slow release fertilizers that you can place behind your Staghorn or Elkhorn plants. Not only does this feed the plants but will also build up the organic matter thereby helping it to retain any water and nutrients making them readily available to the plant either on top or behind the plant.
Use your water also from the tea or coffee (with the coffee grounds or tea leaves) on or behind the plant if you have a Staghorn or Elkhorn. Otherwise just put them in your Compot or spread them round your garden.

Grey Leaved Plants, Dry Soil and Water

The grey leaves on plants are covered in small upright hairs that trap moisture next to the leaf thereby reducing the amount of water the leaf looses. A leaf will evaporate water from its surface as it gets swept by any breeze, which sucks the wate

Grey Leaved Plants, Dry Soil and Water

The grey leaves on plants are covered in small upright hairs that trap moisture next to the leaf thereby reducing the amount of water the leaf looses. A leaf will evaporate water from its surface as it gets swept by any breeze, which sucks the water away from the leaf. By having a ‘forest of hairs’ a physical barrier retains water next to the leaf surface.
Grey leaved plants are often found in very dry places, like a desert, so they need to trap any available water as there is no indication when the next lot of water will arrive. When I was a Jackeroo in Far Western Queensland, west of Quilpie, I experienced only 6 inches (150 mm) in 6 years with sometimes half an inch (12mm), then nothing for another 2 months. In this climate, all the native plants were grey leaved, including many in people’s gardens, as experience had taught the owners that grey leaved plants survive dry conditions.

I often tell people that very dry sand repels water. If you put a drop of water onto dry sand at the back of the beach,

the water will just sit there. BUT if the sand is even slightly moist, the water will immediately go down into the sand.
Exactly the same situation occurs with garden soil or potted soil that has dried out. The dry soil will repel the water. In a pot of dry soil, the potting mix will shrink away from the side of the pot so when water is applied the water comes straight out the bottom BUT the potting mix is still dry.
For those people with a Compot, the contents of the Pot will be moist, including the surrounding soil as moisture is constantly leaching out (assuming you are continuing to feed your Pot). So you will not have super dry soil to try and re-wet.
If you have super dry soil you can help to re-wet it by applying a wetting agent. In most cases you can use a small amount of washing up liquid mixed in with the water to wet the potting mix or soil in your garden. This will break down the water surface tension letting the soil or potting mix take in some water

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Of courses it is far better to avoid super dry soil by using your Compot as this will keep the surrounding soil moist, especially if you top-up your Compot with kitchen scraps that have coffee or tea water added to it from the container

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beside your sink just as I do, and let the hundreds of unpaid worker worms take the broken down material away for you free of charge.
And remember to cover your soil with straw, hay, leaves, mulch, grass clippings or whatever to help retain moisture and plant grey leaved plants that don’t require much watering such as Lavender, Salvia argentea (Silver Sage), Echeveris, or Kalanchoe Brharensis

Today’s Did You Know…?

It is a lot better to have water applied to soil or pots with a light watering application. When conditions become dry, and
we then get rain, it usually comes in a heavy downpour all at once. The water simply runs off the dry soil taking a lot of top soil with it while very little will actually penetrate below the surface soil.
The same applies when you are watering pots or garden soil. It is better to apply the water gently so that it penetrates below the surface, but also to water a lot at once, but at longer intervals. With water penetrating deep into the soil the plant roots will go deeper to seek out the water rather than staying in the top soil where the soil dries our faster. This way you will obtain a greater benefit from your watering, use less water in total and lower your water bills. A Win Win situation.

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