Taking a Leaf of Faith with Grow Media Monitoring
“Knowledge is power.” In the commercial greenhouse, this is one of most true statements that can be said about growing plants. Although plants can not speak, they can give signs and other ques that something is either going very good or very poorly. The first step in understanding these plants and their signs, careful monitoring should be done to ensure that the plants are in fact happy and healthy. Some nutrient deficiencies and pathogens can be silent killers to where when signs appear on the plant, it is too late. A grower should monitor several aspects of the growing area with each aspect just as important as the other.
|Factors that Need to be Monitored in the Growing Media|
Temperature in Root Zone
Air temperature is not the only important area that temperatures should be monitored. The root zone is a very particular area that if ideal will directly impact the growth of the plant. The monitoring and control of temperature has been a very key and vital part in maximizing the yields of crops for a growing season and maintaining quality. Research has shown that regulating the temperature at the root zone brings positive effects to the plants. Root zone temperatures that are maintained at optimal levels have shown to help balance issues with fluctuating air temperatures, increase the transportation of water from the root zone to the leaves, increase the activity of stoma, and overall increase the dry weights of shoots, leaf area, and the development of the fruits. More research has shown that root zone temperatures that are controlled and monitored have a direct impact on plant health.
pH In the Root Zone
pH is one of the most thought of factors in media especially in soil grown crops. However, pH should also be a consideration for all types of operations from soilless media, stone wool, coco coir, and more. pH is the representation of the acidity and alkalinity of the media on a 0-14 scale. 0-6 is an acidic level and 8-14 is a basic or alkaline level, while 7 is a neutral. The average ideal range of pH for proper plant growth is between 6-7, however some plants may need a slightly different range depending on their needs. Problems in pH can cause nutrient deficiency, root burns, and growth issues of either stunted or spindly. pH can block the uptake of nutrients by the roots regardless of the amount in the media. Too acidic and the roots will not grow properly and become burned. Daily to weekly monitoring of the pH in a growing media can help a grower adjust and create the ‘goldilocks’ range of pH for the plants specific needs.
EC in The Root Zone
EC is an acronym for electrical conductivity. Electrical conductivity is an important aspect of the growing media as it controls nutrient absorption and water absorption. EC is a way to measure fertilizer given to the crops and a climate control mechanism for water absorption. As a general rule of thumb EC should be built upon throughout a plant’s life cycle. The main role of EC after a plant has been germinated and established into vegetative growth is to maintain the nutrient availability for the plant to use and offer stability. This also affects the osmotic value for plants that helps produce a stronger and better quality plant. After a plant is in the final stages of growth and development at the end of a growing season, the nutritional levels are not as essential, the fertilizer is simply applied to maintain a stable EC and root zone.
Just as a human needs important nutrients and minerals in their diet, plants need at least sixteen crucial nutrients and minerals during the stages of growth. A lack of nutrients and minerals in the growing media lead to growth issues and overall plant quality. A plant needs several different nutrients throughout their lifetime in differing amounts either as a macro or micro nutrient. Common signs of a plant nutrient deficiency are yellowed leaves, stunted growth, burnt looking leaves, and overall a look of unhealthy plants. Regular testing of the growing media, as well as monitoring of plant color and growth rates will ensure that fertilizers can be applied to the roots zone to help in plant growth to avoid a deficiency.
Water Drainage and Moisture Control
Water is a driving force in a greenhouse and a lack of water can cause a dangerous place in a greenhouse that should be a plant haven. Checking drainage and overall moisture control in the growing media will ensure that plants get adequate water when they need it. Water stress is a leading factor in poor growth and overall death rates in the greenhouse. Once a plant reaches the permanent wilting point, it can not be revived. Daily checks and monitoring of irrigation systems with annual maintenance and repairs will ensure plants do not get stressed at least in the water department.
Pests and Pathogens in the Root Zone Monitoring
Pests and pathogens are always looking to cash in on the perfect conditions of water, food, and good temperature. A grower needs to be on their toes to ensure that an outbreak does not occur. A grower should have an Integrated Pest Management System or plan in place. As a part of the IPM plan, a grower should do daily checks of the growing areas not only in the air or the vegetative growth, but also down below in the media and root zones. Early stages of a pests life cycle such as whitefly and larvae pests start at the root zone praying on a plant’s roots. By monitoring pest populations, a grower can adequately control the pests through their desired method of control either chemical or organic. Pathogen control such as powdery mildew can be controlled quickly if careful monitoring is conducted. Pests and pathogens can cause serious problems in the greenhouse that can impact the quality and quantity of a harvest.
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