NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR OCTOBER 25, 2014 *************************************************************




          When you buy a plant or a unit of plants such as a flat, do you check the roots before you plant? Nurseries and garden centers usually water their plants at least once per day and during a very hot spell will water several times a day to keep the soil moist so you will need a good set of roots (white not black-root rot). Also you don’t want those roots so crowded that they are going in circles inside the container in order to find room. I usually slit at least one side of a crowded root ball in order to encourage them to expand into their new home. If the ball is not too tight you can generally separate a number of roots.  I like to separate them from the bottom up.

          Their purpose is to anchor the plant into the ground, as they pick up water and nutrients to send to the leaves. They come in all sizes such as a tree to the tiny white hairs attached to the main root.  They may have different root systems such as fibrous that come from the main stem and search in all directions.  Most of them are not too deep which makes transplanting much easier.  Or they might have a tap root system, a single root that goes down deeper.  The older these get the harder to transplant.  If you have ever eaten a carrot you have eaten a swollen tap root.  A third system is that of vines and their clinging apparatus (aerial roots) such as with ivy. Other climbers use tendrils, such as with passion vine. And some coil their stems such as with “Akeba”. And a few have curling leaf stalks such as Clematis.

          Roots do not make the simple carbohydrates like leaves do. They do send water and nutrients up to the rest of the plant. These roots are constantly respiring and giving off carbon dioxide and taking in oxygen.  This explains why so many plants require “well drained soil” and compacted soil is bad. Roots need oxygen. A tree planted too deep will not grow well and die. Nursery planters are usually very careful when they transplant to have the initial roots at the soil surface. Piling soil on an established tree or shrub will slowly kill it (suffocation). This may take a year or so but less leaves will appear in the spring as the appearance of the tree goes down hill.

          The last few years we have been hearing the word “Mycorrhiza”. This is a beneficial fungous that lives on the tips of the root hairs.  They can digest organic matter in the soil, changing it to sugars the roots can use.  At the same time roots keep the fungous damp. You will sometimes read of adding “mycorrhiza” to soil or has been added to seeds. Big roots divide in size until we get the root hairs, then the fungous.

          Roots have a number of troubles we need to watch out for.  An early one is damping off when our newly sprouted seeds suddenly collapse.  This is another fungous in damp soil. I like to use “seed starting soil”, which contains an inhibitor, and then water carefully so the seedlings are not waterlogged.

          We are all acquainted with “grubs”, those little, fat, white curled up worms, you find if you dig a patch of soil that doesn’t look so good. They are the offspring of beetles that hatch and feed on the roots of plants. There are regular schedules available from your local County Extension Service on the best time and what to use to get rid of them. In you lawn, lift up a small area of sod and count how many you find. If you have more than 8 to 10 per square foot, apply a chemical. In your vegetable or flower garden just put them in a can of water.

          “Iris Borers” are a different pain! They are the offspring (larva) of a moth which lays eggs on the leaves in late summer.  These will hatch the next spring and drill their way down to the roots, causing root rot.  The foliage of iris needs to be cut down short in late fall or very early spring to get these eggs or larva out of the bed before they get to the root.

          The “Cut Worm” is a caterpillar from the eggs of various moths that eats the root or outer stem of a number of plants.  If you know you have them and are setting out new plants, you can use various methods to protect them. Some people save the cardboard center from the roll of paper towels, cut a short length, and then put it around the stem of their new plant. Others save a small metal can or have their favorite restaurant save a #10 can, and place it around their newly planted vegetable plant. The protection needs to be in the ground at least one inch.

          Too much water can affect any and all plants. The first symptom is wilted leaves which often leads to more water being added. Soil compaction and poor drainage can also lead to water problems. Check their roots just under the surface to see if they are turning black. If the plant is in a low area, choose a plant that likes damp soil. Or you can improve the drainage. In buying a container, make sure it has adequate holes in the bottom for drainage as we water them every day in hot weather.

          Verticilium or Fusarium wilt both affect many of our plants. Both of which are fungi that will remain in the soil for some time. There is no cure. Remove affected plants and put in the trash, not the compost pile. Plant resistant plants in that area.  These fungi occur more often when the same plant is grown for years in the same area. Rotate your crops. Copyright 2014