Why Root Trimming Works so Well in Hydroponics
At the barber or beautician, it’s common to hear a request for a little off the top, but never a trim from the bottom. It feels like that should carry over to plants too. While leaves and branches are fair game, roots enjoy an untouchable status. Surprise! With hydroponics, there’s a need to keep roots trim. Here are a few reasons why root trimming works so well in hydroponics.
Inspect First, Cut Later
Before you snip, look at the state of your plants’ roots. One of the great advantages of hydroponics over soil farming is that your root systems are mostly exposed and hold few mysteries. In general, healthy roots are colored white, feel smooth to the touch, and have a long reach. Bad roots can be brown, but keep in mind the color and content of whatever nutritional supplements you use on your plants. Discoloration doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dying. Surer signs of bacterial infection, infestation, or other issues include roots that break off easily, are withering, or feel slimy. These are all ways your crop asks for help! But even if your roots are healthy, trimming the roots might still be a good idea. Here’s why.
The Roots of the Issue, and the Issues of Roots
While it might seem like cutting the roots is a sure way to kill the plant, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, because hydroponically grown plants don’t need to expand into the soil in search of water and nutrients, it helps them if they can spend less time on growing longer roots. At the same time, the faster they grow, the more attention you should pay to the root system after trimming. Make sure some roots don’t grow longer than others and monitor the health and appearance of the remaining shorter ones.
Tools of the Trade
Before lunging at your roots with heavy-duty gardening shears, think smaller. The best way to trim roots is with micro-tip pruning shears. These have slim and sharp blades that can cut without disturbing your plants. There are multiple kinds of leaf trimmers and other specialty plant tools for your hydroponics garden, but light and small is the way to go—you don’t want to maneuver a large pair of scissors or shears around your hydroponics system. When you do get down to the business of trimming, be sure you wipe down and disinfect the blades between uses. Gardening tools can easily transfer diseases between plants.
Assess Twice, Cut Once
As mentioned earlier, sick roots are easy to identify, but take your time and ensure they’re truly ill before putting them to the sword. More generalized pruning of healthy roots isn’t a bad thing and is a big reason why root trimming works so well in hydroponics. Still, most sites recommend removing no more than 10 to 15 percent of the mass of roots (again, avoiding the crown). Otherwise, you risk stressing out the plant. At the point of flowering, cease pruning! You’ve done your job.