What do plants need to grow? Plants need five main things for their growth: nutrients, light, air, moisture (water), and the right temperature. They are available naturally, but sometimes you can provide them artificially. This article offers a comprehensive overview of what plants need to grow based on many different factors.
First Of All, What Factors Affect Plant Growth?
We already mentioned five leading factors that affect the growth of plants, and they are mainly environmental. But it’s also essential not to forget things such as space needed and the fact that plants need time to grow. If you understand the role that they play in plants’ development, you can “manipulate” them to your advantage.
1. Why Do Plants Need LIGHT To Grow?
Light is one thing that a plant can’t live without because it ensures that an important thing called photosynthesis can occur. Now let’s talk more about light because three light characteristics affect plant growth:
Quantity And How Does The Intensity Of Light Affect Plant Growth?
Quantity of light refers to the intensity of sunlight that usually varies with season. Summer has the strongest light intensity, and as you might expect, the winter season has the weakest light intensity. But a too intense light can be damaging to plants, and that’s why some plants need shading.
Quality Of Light And What Light Makes Plants Grow The Best?
The type or the quality of light refers to the wavelength or, in plain English, the light’s color. There are approximately seven light color spectrums. But, red and blue are usually the most important ones for plants, with green and yellow coming after them.
These two colors (blue and red) generally have the most significant effect on plant growth. This is also because a combination of red and blue light usually encourages flowering. But, blue light alone promotes vegetative growth.
The Amount Of Light And How Much Of It Plants Need?
Under light duration, there are three categories of plants: short-day/long-night. Day-neutral and long-day/short-night, but we can also catalog them into more specific groups. These groups help us conclude how much the plant we intend to grow needs light. These are:
Fun Fact, Photoperiod Refers To The Duration Of Time A Plant Is Exposed To Light.
- Full Sun – A plant that needs at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Part Sun – A plant that loves to get between 3 and 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Part Shade – These plants need 3 and 6 hours of sunlight per day and need protection from the intense mid-day sun.
- Full Shade – These plants need less than 3 hours of direct sunlight per day.
2. How Does TEMPERATURE Affect Plant Growth?
Temperature handles lots of plant processes. They include:
When temperature increases up to a certain point, then the rate of respiration, transpiration, and photosynthesis will increase. A combination of temperature and day-length also plays a crucial role in affecting flowering and vegetative growth.
3. Why Do Plants Need WATER To Grow?
Most plants that we grow are around 90% water. This means that water is essential for plant growth as it helps to facilitate the following roles and processes:
- Respiration and photosynthesis.
- Transportation of minerals and vitamins.
- Provides roots with pressure as they move through the soil.
- It helps to cool the plants through evaporation during hot days.
- Creates turgor pressure in plant cells leading to firmness and fullness of the plant tissues.
Humidity also helps to promote the process of photosynthesis!
What Is The Best ENVIRONMENT For Growing Plants?
The location that a plant is likely to grow faster is where there is fertile soil! Remember that plants have access to all the essential nutrients required for growth when the soil is fertile. Understand that a combination of fertile soil with sun and rain usually leads to optimal results.
Where Do Plants Grow The Best? Inside Or Outside?
Plants will naturally grow faster when they are outside rather than inside. When they are outdoors, they are exposed to all the elements that support their growth. The development here will be the fastest because they get the right amount of nutrients from the soil, water, and light.
The reason for this is because the indoor climate is too restricted to promote optimal growth naturally. For instance, you must regulate the lighting, and in some cases, you might be forced to add a lighting system. It’s also crucial that you check airflow, regulate temperature and humidity when your growing plants indoors.
The costs and work that comes with managing such aspects can be quite draining, especially if you have a busy schedule. This is because you have to track the internal room changes continually and adjust them accordingly.
But, many psychological and physical rewards come with growing your plants outdoors in a garden. You don’t have to regulate the weather patterns such as temperature and humidity. Besides that, the lighting is natural. All you might need to do is to weed the plants or water them if the rainwater supply is insufficient.
Note: the results might vary slightly depending on the species. Some plants may thrive outdoors and vice-versa!
What’s Generally The Best Kind Of Soil For Plants?
The ideal soil to ensure optimal plant growth is loam. It’s commonly referred to as black dirt or topsoil. Loam soil has proved to be an ideal soil type for plant growth because it’s a blend of sand, silt, and clay. Its components include around 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay.
It’s ideal for cultivating both potted and garden plants. Loamy soil can be cultivated easily because it also warms up quickly. As a result, it allows the plants to thrive swiftly because of the soil’s warm, fine texture and damp nature. Remember to regularly mix it with organic matter, compost, for example, because it’s naturally acidic.
Do Plants Grow Faster In Dark Or Light?
In an everyday sense, plants usually grow faster in light. The growth of plants in the dark is relatively slow. This is due to the lack of light to facilitate the process of photosynthesis.
But there are instances where plants seem to grow faster in places with insufficient light. This happens typically as a result of rapid cell elongation. But we can’t term this as faster growth because the plants are merely “stretching.”
So, generally, it’s important to note that plants only grow when there is photosynthesis. Without light, photosynthesis won’t occur, and the plant tissues won’t develop. As a result, the plant will only have sickly green leaves or white coloration.
Total darkness causes the plant cells to expand upwards. This process is known as geotropism. Understand that prolonged exposure to darkness will lead to the death of the plants. That’s the short answer. Now, let’s get deeper into this topic and ask a simple question.
Can A Plant Grow In Total Darkness?
One of the things that all plants need to survive is light. Plants can’t survive in total darkness. This is because they need light to photosynthesize and to produce the energy they need for growth. That’s why a wide range of plant species are autotrophs, i.e., they’re self-feeding plants and need light to survive.
What Are Autotrophic Plants?
Autotrophic plants have leaves that they use to carry out the process of photosynthesis. When these plants absorb water and nutrients from the soil, they also need sunlight to convert the nutrients into energy.
So, when plants don’t get sunlight, they become etiolated. This emergency condition forces the plants to use their resources due to the lack of sun. That’s why if you pitch your tent on a lawn for a couple of days, you will find that the grass underneath it will turn yellow and spindly.
This before mentioned condition is an emergency adaptation that forces the plant to focus on its existing resources and use them for energy production until it’s possible to reaccess sunlight. If this duration is too long, then the plants will eventually die.
Then What Are Heterotrophic Plants?
As we mentioned, autotrophs need light, but some plants don’t perform photosynthesis. They are known as heterotrophs because they depend on other organisms for survival. But does this mean that they can fully thrive without light?
While heterotrophs don’t have chloroplasts, they still need some form of light exposure for growth. Theoretically, heterotrophs can live in complete darkness. But in reality, they are typically found in low-light conditions like under other vegetation.
What Makes Plants Grow Faster And How To Promote That Growth?
Adequate light, air, nutrients, temperature, and water are the most critical factors for optimal plant growth. But, several other ingredients can help the plants grow faster. They supply the soil and surrounding environment with essential compounds that support healthy development. Some of the things that you may think are only waste but you can use as a fertilizer include:
- Wood Ash: Its alkaline content is ideal for neutralizing acidic soil.
- Ground Coffee: It’s an organic plant booster rich in nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.
- Used Tea Leaves: They are rich in nutrients and act as good organic fertilizers that support growth.
- Compost Tea: It contains beneficial compounds that help improve the shine and vibrancy of plants and growth.
I need to remind you that food waste such as coffee grounds are so-called “slow-release fertilizers” because different microscopic bacterias and fungis haven’t decomposed that material yet. This means that they aren’t suitable for your plants if they need those nutrients right now.
What Time Of Day Do Plants Grow The Most?
Most plants naturally grow during the evenings and at night. During the day, they capture energy from the sun to promote the synthesis of new tissues. But, tissue synthesis typically starts in the evening and continues throughout the night. This period is ideal since there is no heat stress or water loss due to evaporation.
How Do I Slow Plant Growth?
Believe me or not but plants can grow excessively. Plants in a rapid state of growth will use their energy in getting larger and developing taller. But, unfortunately, such plants tend to get spindly.
Their leaves may also appear dehydrated or malnourished since their root systems are usually underdeveloped to support their growth effectively. But, it’s also possible to slow down their growth. The best way to do this is by using plant growth hormone regulators!
But How Do Plant Growth Hormone Regulators Work?
You need to apply the growth regulator on the topsoil but near the base of the plant. You can do this using a drench system or an injector to ensure that the hormones quickly reach the roots. Once the plants absorb the hormones, the growth-regulating effects kick in.
Growth hormone regulators contain compounds that help to reduce the effectiveness of growth hormones in plants. Please keep in mind that these are the hormones that are primarily known to stimulate growth. In most plants, you will find the Gibberellic acid hormone. So, the regulator hormones will target it.
If gibberellic acid’s production is reduced, the plant will reduce its growth speed and become shorter. Over the next few weeks, it will be evident that the plants’ growth has decreased significantly, especially in height and size.
But Why Would You Want To Slow Down Plant Growth?
One disadvantage that comes with the rapid growth of plants is the lack of stability. The plants grow bigger and bigger but lack a well-rooted system that can effectively support their strength off the ground. As a result, it becomes easy to uproot them.
Besides that, growth regulators can also be used to reduce the production of abscise acid. This is a type of hormone that helps to cut water loss in some plants. This means that during the dry season, the plants will survive and withstand the test of time.
Generally, plants that are usually treated with growth regulators end up having greener leaves and deeper roots. They are also more attractive because of their improved shapes and the high production of green chlorophyll. So, if it’s an indoor or garden, this helps to enhance your surroundings’ esthetic appeal!
Those who are keen on landscaping can use this opportunity to trim the plants to specific sizes without worrying about unwanted growth.
Should You Feed Your Plants Every Time You Water Them?
NO! Keep everything simple and only feed your plants once or twice a week, depending on their growth stage and species. In a sealed package, provide them fertilizers only when they need those nutrients! The rest of the time, make sure that you only water them.
But What Might Happen If You Overfeed Your Plants?
Giving your plants some fertilizer every time you water them can result in easily recognizable side effects such as:
- Discoloration: the leaves start to change color.
- Rotting roots: The plant is getting too much nutrients.
- Wilting and yellowing of the leaves: High doses of fertilizer.
- Slow or stunted growth: Due to the excess supply of nutrients.
- Weak shoots and physically vulnerable plants: Will lead to stunted growth.
- Burned leaf margins and tips: Flush the soil to minimize the severity of the burning.
- Lack of inflorescence: Caused by too much nitrogen, leading to more robust foliage and lack of flowering.
- Development of black-brown roots: A high concentration of fertilizers that become sources of food for pathogens.
- Leaf drop and defoliation: The stress caused by overfeeding causes the plants to lose their leaves.
Generally, these symptoms tend to occur after frequent fertilization, and that’s why they are mainly considered to be the case of overfeeding!
How Do You “Fix” Overfed Plants?
First of all, the best way to manage overfeeding is by preventing it from happening. Try to feed your plants an adequate amount of nutrients by applying the right amount of fertilizer.
Secondly, ensure that your plants have a sound drainage system. The soil shouldn’t be clogged with water and nutrients. If overfeeding is still a problem, then it would be appropriate to leach the soil. Make sure that you also avoid fertilizing the plants for a couple of weeks.
What Nutrients Do Plants Need To Grow?
Plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K), and most of these nutrients are naturally found in soil. You might be familiar with the three aforementioned primary nutrients, but do you know what other nutrients plants need to grow? As we know, the NPK ratio is in every fertilizer package because plants need those nutrients the most, but basic nutrients such as:
- Carbon (C)
- Oxygen (O)
- Hydrogen (H)
Secondary macronutrients such as:
- Sulfur (S)
- Calcium (Ca)
- Magnesium (Mg)
And let’s not forget micronutrients like:
- Iron (Fe)
- Zinc (Zn)
- Boron (B)
- Nickel (Ni)
- Silicon (Si) – not an essential nutrient to some plants!
- Cobalt (Co)
- Copper (Cu)
- Sodium (Na) – not an essential nutrient to some plants!
- Chlorine (Cl)
- Selenium (Se)
- Vanadium (V)
- Aluminum (Al) – not an essential nutrient to some plants!
- Manganese (Mn)
- Molybdenum (Mo)
Are just as important as primary nutrients but in smaller amounts.
But as the plants continue to grow and develop in size, they end up absorbing everything from the ground, and that’s why you must replace the depleted nutrients. This is why you can feed your plants with commercial fertilizers or with organic fertilizers. Let’s learn more about them now!
1. What Are Commercial Fertilizers?
Inorganic or commercial fertilizers are the most commonly used nutrient sources for plants, especially in agriculture. Generally, fertilizers come in granular form, which means that you can quickly sprinkle them on the soil.
Understand that you can only apply fertilizer after every few months. Commercial fertilizers are usually labeled with an N-P-K ratio. The type of plant you want to fertilize determines the ideal balance. For instance, a fertilizer with a high proportion of phosphorus is perfect for almost blooming plants.
If you’re growing your plants in pots, try to use liquid fertilizers that come in spray bottles. They are quite convenient to use, and the plants will immediately absorb the nutrients in them. Just pour/inject the recommended amount of liquid fertilizer near the plants’ roots, and that’s it!
2. What Are Organic Fertilizers?
You can also feed your plants organic matter such as poultry waste, compost, or manure. Farmers have been using manure for centuries, and it has proved to be one of the best organic ways to fertilize plants.
Poultry waste is also another popular choice among farmers and gardeners. You only need to sprinkle the organic matter around the plants’ roots that you want to feed.
But Is It Better To Use Organic Or Inorganic Fertilizers?
If you wonder what type of fertilizer to use, remember that organic ones like manure or animal waste are almost always a better option than most artificial fertilizers.
Regardless of the fact, don’t use fresh or raw manure since it can be hazardous! The best way to use organic matter is to compost it! But I wouldn’t worry much about that because most of the organic fertilizers you buy from the nurseries or grocery stores are ready to use.
Can You Use Pet Poop In Your Garden?
Also, as a side note, if you are a pet owner, remember that using your cats’ or dogs’ feces is not advisable. This is because their waste can spread parasites or other pathogens to your garden in the worst-case scenario. But, if you want to use them, and you should, you need to compost them first!
What Chemicals Can Affect Plant Growth?
Plants get negatively affected when they are exposed to toxic chemicals. The type of chemicals that can poison them may not necessarily affect human beings and vice versa. Things that can affect plant growth include herbicides, heavy metals, acidic or alkaline soils, and fertilizers. Now let’s talk about all of them in detail:
How Do Herbicides Affect Plants?
Herbicides have been specifically designed to kill plants; hence they are poisonous. While some herbicides can kill a broad range of plants, some are made to kill certain plants, such as weeds.
Keep in mind, though, that there are herbicides used for pre-emergence control. This means that you have to use them before the weeds’ onset to limit their germination and growth.
How Do Heavy Metals Affect Plants?
You’ve probably heard about plants that absorb compounds from their surroundings, right? When there are heavy metals in such areas, these plants will absorb the toxic elements and get poisoned!
Heavy metals and metalloids find their way into soils through rapid emissions from waste disposal, fertilizers, paints, leaded gasoline, and industrial emissions, to name a few. The pollutants may include elements such as lead, nickel, mercury, and cadmium.
Generally, heavy metals have massive effects on plants, especially if they absorb them in high concentrations. When the plants take them through the roots, their physiology ends up getting damaged.
What Happens To Plants If The Soil Is Too Acidic Or Alkaline?
Soil pH directly affects plant growth! If the pH is outside the usual tolerance range, which is approximately 5.5 to 7.5 for most plants, it might end up stunting or dying. Large concentrations of acids that commonly affect plants include nitric, sulphuric, and hydrochloric. But, strong bases with a significant negative impact on plants include potassium hydroxide and lye.
Note: while strong acids and bases are known to have a significant impact on plants, if they are found in low concentrations, the plants will still get negatively affected. So, it’s vital to ensure that your soil pH is as close to the appropriate range as possible!
Those three types of chemicals affect plants negatively. But, thankfully, some chemicals have positive growth effects.
How Fertilizers Affect Plant Growth?
They help to nourish plants and enhance their growth. Fertilizers are made of compounds such as potassium phosphate, potassium nitrate, and ammonium nitrate. These three compounds contain the essential nutrients critical to their development.
Generally, most fertilizers have these three main macronutrients: phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. But there are also ones that contain small variations of extra macro-and micronutrients.
So, while fertilizers have positive effects on plants’ growth, it’s essential to use them in moderation! For example, too much of them might promote the development of weeds and other unwanted plants.
What Household Chemicals Can Kill Your Plants?
If you are growing your plants indoors, then you have to be very careful. This is because some household chemicals can easily kill them if you’re not careful enough! Or, if you want to get rid of unwanted plants, you can use these chemicals. These households’ chemicals include:
1. Baking Soda
While it’s known as a miracle product for cleaning, it seems baking powder still has unlimited uses. It’s typically used to control weeds, and this means if it’s accidentally applied to your indoor plants, they might die.
To prevent the growth of weeds, apply a sprinkle of the powder or make a solution. Baking powder works by absorbing water from the soil and also kills nutrients.
This is another readily available chemical. Household salt is ideal for getting rid of pesky weeds that generally pop up in areas close to plants. Salt drains moisture from the soil and also eliminates essential minerals and vitamins.
It’s one of the harshest household chemicals that can also kill your plants. It’s sometimes used to control the growth of weeds. But due to its extremely damaging nature, you have to be careful when using bleach to eliminate weeds.
The effectiveness of vinegar in killing weeds is based on the fact that it contains acetic acid. This household chemical is typically used to kill the plant’s leaves because it doesn’t kill the roots.
While it virtually works with all types of plants, it’s ideal for young plants since they haven’t fully established themselves. Besides that, they still don’t have adequate food stores in their roots to re-establish themselves.
5. Rubbing Alcohol
This is an ethanol-based chemical solution that’s usually used to disinfect wounds, surfaces or eliminate odors. It’s typically used in homes because it helps to draw water out. This effect will be the same in plants. They will end up getting dehydrated and eventually die. This is not a particular type of household chemical because it kills all plants it comes in contact with.
These household chemicals mostly kill plants by absorbing water from them as well as their surroundings. Additionally, they also kill the essential nutrients. The plants will eventually die as a result of dehydration and starvation. If you want to eliminate weeds, be careful when applying such chemicals because you might end up killing your plants as well. Now, last but not least, answers to interesting questions…
Do Plants Like Music?
Yes! Plants love music and “can listen” to it! Some people play music to plants, and they thrive. An ideal music frequency should, however, be between 115 Hz and 250 Hz.
This frequency range usually feels warm and sweet. The vibrations produced by music in that frequency is what feels like muffled sounds to human beings. But to plants, this emulates the nature that they naturally grow in.
Remember, the ideal type of music for most plants that promote greater stimulation are classical and jazz. But, make sure that your plants aren’t exposed to music for more than three hours every day. I know that this kind of subject is tough to prove but if you got interested, check out this article on bloomscape.
Can A Plant Feel Pain?
Plants are living things, but this doesn’t mean that they have feelings. A plant can’t feel pain since it doesn’t have pain receptors, a brain, or even nerves. It doesn’t respond to pain the way we human beings and other animal kingdom members feel it.
Do Plants Need “Sleep Or Rest”?
Unlike human beings, plants don’t move around. But does this mean they don’t need rest or sleep? Well, what usually makes plants tired is the unavailability of all the plant resources. If there is no water, nutrients, air, light, etc., they will feel tired.
But, plants don’t need rest as long as there is a guaranteed supply of all the essential elements that promote growth. So, keeping them in an environment where they can thrive means that they will continue to photosynthesize during the day.
But they “sleep” at night when the process of photosynthesis has stopped. When respiration occurs, glucose is being prepared in the tissues for rapid use during the day.
They have a 24-hour circadian rhythm. So, when the sun goes down, they drop their leaves and go to “sleep.” When the sun comes up, the leaves start to photosynthesize again.
I hope you now know at least the basics of what do plants need to grow. But if you don’t, let’s revise!
I know that this post is exceptionally long, so it might be hard to remember everything you’ve just read. That’s why the most important things you should keep in mind are that plants will always need:
- An appropriate temperature to grow well
Featured image credit – © mjaud – stock.adobe.com