The health of your plant’s root system determines how healthy your plant will grow. A healthy plant root system requires not only sufficient nutrients but also a large enough plant root growth area, good ventilation, and other conditions. When you have these conditions, pruning your roots through the air will ensure healthy growth.
What is air pruning?
Air pruning means that when the roots of the plant are exposed to the air, they will automatically dry and fall off (a kind of “automatic pruning”), and after this automatic pruning, the roots will automatically grow more “sucking” roots from the tap root, and your root system will become stronger.
Plants need air to survive, so why does air cause roots to die? This is because the root system can only absorb oxygen from the air at certain humidity levels—soil retains a certain amount of moisture and roots can breathe freely while they are in it, but when they are exposed to dry air roots cannot grow.
Why is air pruning good for your plants?
Here are some advantages of air pruning:
- It reduces the chance of standing water, which reduces the chance of root rot.
- It encourages new roots to sprout.
- It prevents roots from becoming root-bound.
- It prevents plants from relying on a single taproot for nutrients.
- It builds a healthier root system.
How can we use the principle of air pruning to make plants more robust?
Experienced gardeners may already do this, but using fabric pots encourages air pruning (sometimes, these pots are called “air pruning pots”). If you’ve been using regular plastic pots you’ll find that as the plant grows, its root system wraps around the edge of the pot, and the roots get tangled, so excess water drains slower. Fabric planters change all that.
Because of the weaving in the fabric, when the roots reach the edge of the pot, they force their way through these small holes and become exposed to dry air, causing them to die or retract to a point that is moist enough for them to survive. This forces the taproot to grow more new roots and these new roots absorb more nutrients from the soil. This means using fabric pots drains excess water instead of allowing it to accumulate, preventing root rot.
Air pruning pots will allow your plants to grow more roots and maintain the right humidity to absorb more nutrients. Your plants will of course produce higher yields at harvest.
In addition to choosing the right pots to plant in, correct nutrition is also key to air pruning. It is a good choice to grow plants in coco coir and add the correct nutrient mixture, or to grow them in a mixture of soil to balance nutrients. If you’re using traditional pots, adding the right amount of perlite to the soil to promote airflow can also encourage air pruning. You can also add it to grow bags and fabric pots, but the mixture varies depending on the environment at home.
So how much perlite should be added to the soil? Different components bring different results. If you add less than 25% perlite, you will retain more nutrients, and correspondingly, airflow may not be too high but it is enough for air pruning; using 30-50% perlite will retain a lot of air, your roots will get more pruning; add more than 50% perlite and your roots will grow like crazy, but be careful—make sure you’re giving your plants enough nutrients.
Root systems are very sensitive and if they are not cared for properly they can develop a range of health problems like shrinking, rotting, and more. When you water your plants, since you are using fabric pots, excess water will flow out of the pot quicker than it would in a plastic or ceramic pot so you will also need to water more frequently (but be careful, overwatering is an extremely common problem even in fabric pots).
The final consideration for growing pots is finding the right size because planting in pots that are too small can limit plant growth. For fabric pots, you will usually need to choose a pot that is twice the size of a regular pot to accommodate your plants.
Air pruning your plants could be the breakthrough you’re looking for right now. If you’ve provided your plants with very comfortable conditions, try air pruning—it will show you that there is still room for improvement.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!
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