Knowing how plants grow is key if you want to obtain a green thumb. Growing plants is one of the most rewarding activities, in fact watching things grow from a tiny seed or seedling into a beautiful flower, tree, or vegetable never gets old.
Plants are living beings, and have basic needs for survival. To grow plants need: sunlight, air, soil, water, nutrients, correct temperature, maintenance, space, time, and love. With the correct doses of all of these elements, plants will grow and thrive.
Let’s take a look at each important thing that a plant needs to grow in more depth. Understanding why each factor is important will help you grow plants successfully.
Everyone can agree that plants need sunlight to grow. Sure, there are some plants that thrive in shade, but in this case, we are talking about the broad spectrum of almost all plants and trees that require sunlight to grow.
To understand why exactly plants need sunlight, we need to understand the basics of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a process that all green plants utilize to make food for themselves.
Within plants cells, there are tiny structures called chloroplasts. Within these chloroplasts is a substance called chlorophyll. The chlorophyll is what makes plant leaves green, and its main function is to absorb energy from sunlight. This energy allows the plant to convert carbon dioxide, which is absorbed from the air, and water, absorbed from the soil, into sugar that powers the plant to keep on growing.
In short, plants need sunlight to make food for themselves to power their process of growth. Most plants need 3-6 hours of sun per day. Check the nursery tag, or look up the specific plant(s) you are working with to get an idea of exactly how much light they will need to thrive.
For a seed to germinate, it needs to be moist. Water activates the germination process, signaling to the seed that it’s time to come out of dormancy and sprout. The seed is able to emerge, after getting softened by water.
Once a plant has emerged it will continue to need water. Nutrients that are essential for plant growth move from the soil, through the roots, and into the plant via water, keeping the plant properly nourished. You’ve probably seen plants that haven’t gotten enough water, they look wilted. That’s because the plant’s cells start to lose their structure due to a lack of nutrient cycling. So, water helps to keep plants perky and well-nourished.
As the saying goes, “water is life”. The plant uses water to assimilate nutrients and keep its cell structure strong. Water also plays a key role in photosynthesis.
3. Air Circulation
Just like us, plants need air to breathe and proper circulation to grow well. Through the air, carbon dioxide is taken in, and the process of photosynthesis takes place converting it into sugar that the plant uses as food. Air underground is important as well, as roots need oxygen.
Also, wind and gentle breezes that cause the plant to sway and bend slightly help to strengthen the plant. When a plant is moved by wind, a hormone is released which signals the plant to make more supporting cells, making the stem stronger.
Without good circulation and enough airflow, the soil around your plants can remain damp. Dampness without air/circulation creates a breeding ground for fungal and bacterial diseases that can cause harm to your plants. Excess dampness can also attract slugs and snails that may eat the foliage of your plants. So, plants need enough air and good circulation to keep their environment disease-free.
Too much moisture underground, with a lack of air/circulation can cause root rot. Root rot is when the root of the plant begins to rot and die due to being in excess moisture. The best way to avoid this is to make sure your soil drains well. Adding organic matter to your soil can improve drainage.
Soil is the foundation for all plants. Granted, plants can be grown in just water with a hydroponic system, but by and large, plants need soil to grow. Over half of the essential nutrients needed for plant growth come from the soil.
Soil fills several jobs needed for plant growth. First off, it provides a foundation, or structure, for the plant. The root systems of a plant extend through the soil, acting as an anchor for the part of the plant we see above ground. Second, in between soil particles, there are spaces, and in these spaces, there is oxygen, which is necessary for the plant to break down sugar into fuel.
Soil also provides the plant with water and nutrients. In addition, soil keeps the roots protected from extreme temperature fluctuations.
Within the context of soil is also the factor of ph. The pH of your soil tells you whether your soil is acidic or alkaline. Many plants thrive in a specific, small, pH range while some are widely adaptable. Most common garden plants will prefer a slightly acidic or alkaline environment. You can change the pH of your soil by adding amendments, such as lime or sulfur. Check the pH of your soil with a kit that can be purchased from your local hardware store.
Plants need several nutrients to grow. There are a few main nutrients, or macronutrients, needed in larger amounts and some trace elements that the plant needs in smaller amounts.
The main macronutrients required for plant growth are:
- Nitrogen- a major component of chlorophyll, which allows photosynthesis to take place and a component of the amino acids that are the foundations of the proteins which plants need to grow.
- Phosphorous- Plays a key role in photosynthesis and supports healthy root development
- Pottasium- Balanced amounts of potassium help keep plants safe from disease
- Calcium- Helps build cell walls
- Magnesium- Plays a central role in photosynthesis
Other nutrients needed for plant development include calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and boron.
Like us, plants need space to grow. There needs to be enough room underground for roots to develop fully, as roots draw water and nutrients up to the plant. In addition, there needs to be enough space for the leaves to capture sunlight. Overcrowding of plants can cause competition for nutrients, water, and light and result in stunted growth.
Follow the spacing guidelines suggested for the plant(s) you are working with.
All plants need time to grow. As gardeners, we know that you don’t plant a seed and come back the next day to harvest fruit. The timing will vary greatly between plants. For example, a fruit tree might take 3-5 years to establish itself and start bearing fruit, whereas a tomato plant will be producing tomatoes within 90 days of planting.
Read up on the specific plant you are working with to gauge how much time it will need to fully mature.
8. Correct Temperature
Temperature affects plants in all stages of growth. First, for a seed to germinate it needs to be in a specific temperature range. Cool-weather crops like lettuce and kale germinate well at 55F to 75 F, while your summer veggies will germinate in the 70F to 85F range. In general, seeds need warmth to germinate.
As the plant grows, temperature triggers the plant to start flowering and fruitings. So, it’s important to know which agricultural zone you are in. This will tell you when to plant certain plants, and which plants will do well and which won’t.
Once you know your agricultural hardiness zone, refer to helpful planting calendars to ensure success.
Most plants will need some degree of maintenance to keep growing well. For flower plants it’s important to remove dead or wilted flowers, this will encourage new blooms.
With vegetable plants, it’s wise to keep up with harvesting. If you don’t harvest produce it could rot and attract rodents or unwanted insects. In some cases, pruning is needed to keep them under control, and, as the weight of the fruit may cause limbs to break, staking may be necessary. Also, keeping up with weeds is crucial. An abundance of weeds will create an environment where your plants are competing for nutrients and water. Try to get pull out weeds before they set seed. Incorporating a thick mulch in pathways can help keep weeds down.
Overall, keeping up with your plants and doing maintenance when needed will keep them strong and healthy.
It may sound like a cliche, but it’s so true! Plants are living beings, and they benefit from love and care. A garden that is tended to with love will do better than one that is forgotten and abandoned. A garden is like a home, if it is not lived in and looked after with love, it will show. Tended to with love, your plants will be bright, prolific, and bring a smile to those who encounter them.
Now that you have the rundown on the 10 things plants need to grow you’re ready to get out there and get planting! With enough light, water, air, and nutrients you will get plants off to a good start. Give them space, time, attention, and some love and they will surely thrive!