Plant Roots and Nutrients

Support Roots of a Tree

Plant Roots and Nutrients are together the live force of a plant. In most instances one can’t exist without the other or you do not have a plant. They work together in unison to support and nourish your plant allowing it to grow big and strong. Though in some instances the roots are only there for support.

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.

Nutrient Uptake

Microscopic view of plant root hairs

Nutrient uptake in most plants is in fact via the root hairs. These are lateral extensions of a single cell of the epidermis on the fine roots of the plant. They increase the surface area of the root 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. It will take another three days for a replacement to grow and be effective in allowing water and nutrients to be absorbed again.

Destroying Root Hairs

Radish Root Hairs

Destroying Root Hairs is pretty easy if you don’t know what you are doing. Like fertilising with the wrong type of fertiliser, digging near your plants disturbing the roots, transplanting, or accidentally breaking them.

The type of fertilizer that causes the most damage to root hairs 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 thus have minimal burning or damage of the root hairs.

Feed your plants the organic way with compost or good organic liquid fertilisers, or place a Compot or two around your garden and let your waste feed your plants naturally as the waste breaks down.

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.


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