Gardening: Finding the root of the problem
The summer months this year were the wettest on record and were followed by Hurricane Irma, which produced storm surge on the south end of the island and brought even more rain. These flooding rains and surge caused a lot of standing water and saturated soil in areas of Marco Island.
A lot of roots don’t like to sit in water. Heavy rains can saturate the soil and accumulate in areas, causing plants to “stand” in water for days. Adding soil and root stimulant amendments like mycorrhizal fungi, beneficial bacteria and rooting hormones can help these plants recover. Normally when you think of fungi and bacteria, the thoughts aren't good; however, all can be powerhouses for healthy root development.
Roots absorb and feed needed minerals and water to the plant from the soil. They are the first and best line of defense to prevent pollution run off and leaching. Roots can also store food and can even reproduce new plants vegetatively. They are a very important part of the plant.
The roots are the part of the plant that grow down and branch to form a root system to anchor the plant in the soil, as well as feeding it. Water and nutrient uptake is accomplished by tiny, thin-walled root hairs that line the main root. Root hairs are extensions of individual root cells which penetrate the soil to absorb water and minerals.
Root hair loss through transplanting or rot from too much moisture can stress the plant, stop it from growing and possibly cause death. When root loss or damage happens, a plant will try to produce new roots to achieve the previous size, and balance the root system with the above-ground growth.
Mycorrhizal fungi can be a big help in recovery by inhabiting the fine roots of plants. These fungi feed from the sugars in the plants and in return grow mycelia. These are fungi fingers which act as feeding tubes and extend the root surface allowing for better absorption of water and nutrients, like roots on steroids. This in turn increases the plant's tolerance to stresses from poor soil conditions, like salt build up after a hurricane, drought or rot.
For water saturated soil after flooding rains, certain bacteria can help reduce pathogens which cause root diseases and also improve root growth; torn and damaged root systems will be more susceptible to disease.
There are many products on the market containing these beneficial ingredients; look for mycorrhizal and beneficial bacteria on the label. These products produce a more robust root system to absorb and use nutrients and water more efficiently.
After hurricanes or wind storms, work the soil and amendments into the uprooted or water soaked area. Wash these in by poking the hose into the soil around the roots to fill in any air pockets and to wash the beneficial amendments and soil into the damaged roots where they can go to work healing a weary root system. Farmers are adding it to fertilizer to increase crop production and health.
September can be considered a fertilizer month, but it is best to avoid fertilizing during times when heavy rains are expected. The nutrients flush right through our sandy soil or, even worse, run off when applied before heavy rains and become a direct cause of pollution in the Gulf of Mexico.
While October is usually drier, you have to be careful and fertilize before it becomes too cool as the plants can slow down, start to nap and not react to or take up the fertilizer applied. Stressed plants will need these nutrients to recover. Hopefully everyone has completed this task since we are now into November.
Root damage does not appear overnight. It takes time for damaged roots to develop disease and die. Plants may begin to decline and die months or even years after a flood, hurricane or other stressor has passed. If there is no reason that you can see for the decline of your plant, it may be latent root damage from sitting in a flooded area for two or three days or the seemingly minor uprooting from a passing storm. Try some fungus and bacteria. You might save these plants and watch them flourish again in your landscapes.