Most people do not realize that plants are not passive creatures, but quite dynamic on how they react to the environment they are in. They will grow roots that can reach the needed water and nutrients thus adapting to their environment to survive. Here are some plant secrets that are useful in a garden.
Most seeds are like little vehicles that come with a full tank of gas. The energy stored in the seed is design to last until the seedling pokes its head through the soil to sunlight. If the emerging seedling has to travel through too much soil before it reaches the light, growth is slowed or stopped and the seedling becomes stressed. This is why it is so important to plant the seed at the right depth or temperature and moisture have to be just right for the seedling to survive.
Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy. As plants grow and the foliage expands, the uppermost leaves receive the most sunlight. The same leaves, however, shade other leaves or plants, decreasing photosynthesis.
For the highest quality yield, plants that produce fruit (tomatoes, beans peppers) and storage parts (potatoes, beets and turnips) need larger amounts of sunlight throughout the growing season. Crops grown for their leaves (spinach, lettuces, cabbage) do not need as much sunlight to produce great yields. With this in mind, spacing of seeds and plants is critical.
Stress on plants can affect not only growth on plants but also can affect taste, hotness, size of fruit and leaf quality. Crops that are most tender and contain good flavor are those grown at a steady pace from germination to harvest. If their growth is interrupted by drought or by hot or cold temperatures, the cells of the roots begin to toughen, changing the flavor and texture of the plant. Stressed plants create a chemical that can affect the hotness of onions, peppers and radishes.
Hardening of plants is any process that acclimate plants to a new environment. This acclimatization produces changes in the internal aspect of the plant that manifest as a toughening of plant tissue. As seed germinates it uses stored food in the form of carbohydrates to emerge from the soil. As the leaves unfold above ground, they begin to manufacture the sugars and starches needed for continued growth. At this stage in the plant’s life there is little margin for error. If the plant is placed in an environment that disrupts the production of food by the leaves, the plant may just run out of gas before it adjusts to the new, harsher condition.
When some plants flower, they have a one-track mind. Nothing else matters but popping out their flowerbuds. Growers don’t notice anything different about a plant in bloom compared to one not in bloom other than one has flowers and the other doesn’t. There is a chemical change that occurs that a flowering plant undergoes. In many plants, flowers produce chemicals that then inhibit the ability of cuttings taken from that plant to root. The effect is temporary, however, for cutting taken before or after flowerbuds develop root normally. Flowers grown in a greenhouse operation do not make good plants for propagation because they are grown for flower production and not plant quality.
Crop rotation is very important to a successful insect and disease-free environment. Crop rotation, as a general rule, is where a plant is not replanted in an empty row with a crop of the same family. For example, after broccoli has grown in the garden, by planting a cabbage crop, it will attract pests that like broccoli. If the next crop in that row is a bean or lettuce, chances are slim that insects and disease that attacked broccoli will attack these other crops.
Jim Coe lives in Lawton and writes a weekly gardening column for The Constitution.