(Stephen’s favorite colors are dark green, fire orange, and plum purple)
Plants are living organisms just like us. They need certain things to survive and if you manage these things properly your plants will thrive.
Plants need light. Light is the catalyst that plants need to create usable energy through photosynthesis. Plants catch light with something called chlorophyll. Plants prefer sunshine, but you can use a grow light for growing indoors or underground.
The duration and quality of the light are important. Light is qualified by it’s different spectrums or wave lengths. The human eye can see the wave length light spectrum between about 390 nm to about 750 nm. Chlorophyll is most productive with the spectrum between 390 nm and 480 nm or the “blues” and the spectrum between 620 nm and 700 nm or the “reds.” Most of the spectrum between 480 nm and 620 nm is reflected back. This is the referred to as the “greens” and is the reason plants are green.
The energy provided by light helps plants fight off pests, recover from extreme weather or disease, and reproduce. Most garden plants need at least 6 hours of sun, but some, like tomatoes, prefer 10 or more. It is also important to have a period of darkness so the plants can rest.
Like us, plants need to breath, but unlike us they use different things from the air than we do. The Earth’s atmosphere is primarily made of oxygen (O2), Nitrogen (N2), and Carbon Dioxide (CO2).
Plants use CO2 during photosynthesis to make simple sugars like Photosynthate. During this process the plant takes the Hydrogen from Water (H2O) and combines it with the Carbon in CO2 to make these sugars and releases Oxygen as O2 into the atmosphere.
In order to break down these sugars for energy the plants need Oxygen. This process is called respiration. A plant’s roots also need Oxygen; this is why your soil is very important. If your plant is yellowing, it could mean that the roots are not getting enough Oxygen. This could be caused from compact soil, or over watering.
Soil provides a medium for the plant to grow in. It anchors the plant and provides the plants roots with access to water and nutrients. Plants grown in hydroponics will need to have some kind of artificial support and nutrients added to the water.
Soil is a living thing. It is important to cover it with mulch. Like our skin, the mulch will protect the soil, keep it moist, regulate its temperature and prevent compaction. It is important for your soil to be loose or fluffy. Compact soil makes it difficult for plant roots to spread out, which limits their access to Oxygen and other nutrients.
The most important nutrients for plant growth are Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K), and Phosphorus (P). These are the three numbers you see listed on commercial fertilizers (example 10-10-10). The numbers represent the amount of Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus per pound of fertilizer.
Secondarily plants need Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), and Sulfur (S). In addition, they need small amounts of Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Boron (B), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Molybdenum (Mo), and Chlorine (Cl). The best way to make sure your plants have what they need is add organic material to your soil with natural compost, manures, and mulches.
Water is the life blood of a plant. It moves through the vascular system of the plant, carrying nutrients to the cells of the plant. Xylem vessels take water and nutrients up from the roots to the leaves. Phloem vessels carry sugars and nutrients down or up to different parts of the plant.
Water helps plants maintain rigidity. Plants cells stay rigid because of turgor pressure, which is caused by a plant cell filling with water and pushing against the cell wall. Wilting, curled and droopy leaves could indicate the plant isn’t getting enough water.
Any excess water is evaporated out of pours in the leaves. However, you can still over water, which can prevent oxygen from getting to the roots, dilute the nutrients and prevent healthy growth.
In the spring plants know to start growing because of the temperature of the soil. Most plants look for a temperature of about 55° F. The best time to take the temperature of your soil is early in the morning, because that is when it is the coldest.
Air temperature is also important. Plants grow slower when it is cold and faster when it is warm. Living in the desert, I’ve noticed that some plants stop or slow down their growth when the air temperature gets above the 90° F. Warm-season vegetables like zucchini grow best between 60° and 80° F. Cool-season vegetables like lettuce and spinach grow best between 50° and 70° F.
Over crowding your plants causes competition for nutrients and will stunt their growth. If the roots and foliage don’t have room to grow, it will stress out the plant and prevent healthy growth. Be sure to read the planting instructions of your seed packets for spacing.
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