Rafed English

Caring for Plant Roots in the Flower Garden

When gardeners admire their landscape, they don’t always make the connection between the health of the flowers and foliage above ground and the nurturing of the plant happening below the soil’s surface. However, when gardeners take the time to develop a robust root system, it will result in plants that can better withstand weather extremes and pest attacks.

Planting for Root Health

It’s unusual for a plant that appears healthy at the nursery to have an unhealthy root system, but gardeners should always inspect the root ball if possible before purchasing a new plant. The larger roots help to anchor the plant in the soil, and transport nutrients and moisture to the plant. The fine, hair-like roots have the job of absorbing nutrients and moisture from the soil. If a plant is root bound at the nursery, it will take longer to establish in the garden.

When planting new trees, shrubs, or perennial flowers in the landscape, it’s important not to over-amend the planting hole with organic materials. If the soil in the planting hole is too rich and loose compared to the surrounding soil, the roots may circle around in the planting hole, creating a root bound effect and stunting the plant’s growth. Instead, add a layer of organic compost or leaf mould around the plant as mulch, where the nutrients will gradually filter down into the soil.

Fertilize for Healthy Flower Roots

The most essential element for root development in plants is phosphorus, which is the second numeral listed on a package of fertilizer. Bone meal is the best organic source of phosphorus, and gardeners should apply this to the soil if plants exhibit bluish leaves or a stunted root system, two signs of a phosphorus deficiency.

In areas with sandy, porous soil, rock phosphate may be a better choice for an organic source of phosphorus. Rock phosphate isn’t water soluble, so it endures longer in the soil than bone meal does.

Prevent Root Pests

Several pests feed exclusively on plant roots in the garden, including root maggots, nematodes, flea beetle larvae, and weevil larvae. Organic gardeners can apply parasitic nematodes to the soil to control many types of garden larvae pests. These nematodes require moisture to allow them to migrate through the soil in search of pests. Gardeners managing a grub problem can apply the spores of milky spore disease to large garden areas. Grubs typically migrate from grassy areas, so be sure to treat the lawn as well.

Prevent Root Diseases

Root rot is a general term for fungi and bacteria that infect the root system of plants and lead to wilting or plant death. The most common cause of root rot is waterlogged soil, so improving drainage prevents rot. Gardeners who battle root rot regularly due to heavy clay conditions should consider installing raised garden beds. If your garden area is in a low lying area and seems to puddle up after a rain, there are many lovely bog flowering plants that would appreciate your miniature wetland.

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