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Building Bigger Root Systems

Without irrigation, most of the plant's water supply is obtained by expansion into new earth that hasn't been desiccated by other competing roots. Eliminating any obstacles to rapid growth of root systems is the key to success. So, keep in mind a few facts about how roots grow and prosper. The air supply in soil limits or allows root growth. Unlike the leaves, roots do not perform photosynthesis, breaking down carbon dioxide gas into atmospheric oxygen and carbon. Yet root cells must breathe oxygen. This is obtained from the air held in spaces between soil particles. Many other soil-dwelling life forms from bacteria to moles compete for this same oxygen. Consequently, soil oxygen levels are lower than in the atmosphere. A slow exchange of gases does occur between soil air and free atmosphere, but deeper in the soil there will inevitably be less oxygen. Different plant species have varying degrees of root tolerance for lack of oxygen, but they all stop growing at some depth. Moisture reserves below the roots' maximum depth beecome relatively inaccessible. Soil compaction reduces the overall supply and exchange of soil air. Compacted soil also acts as a mechanical barrier to root system expansion. When gardening with unlimited irrigation or where rain falls frequently, it is quite possible to have satisfactory growth when only the surface 6 or 7 inches of soil facilitates root development. When gardening with limited water, China's the limit, because if soil conditions permit, many vegetable species are capable of reaching 4, 5, and 8 eight feet down to find moisture and nutrition.

Next: Evaluating Potential Rooting Ability

Previous: Helping Plants to Need Less Irrigation

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