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Keeping hydroponic roots healthy

It can be easy to forget about the root systems of your plants, but with the root systems health being so vital, and the fact that healthy roots will grow vigorously throughout all stages of the plants development, there certainly an important factor to consider for growing healthy plants. Sometimes it can be easily overlooked, simply because there hard to see inside of the growing medium, and/or might just be hard to see inside the hydroponic system or setup your using. But never the less, root disease can occur in all types of hydroponic systems and using any type of growing medium (bark, pumice, sawdust, coco coir, rockwool, grow rocks, etc.).

Healthy roots simply grow healthy plants . Also, unhealthy roots can invite unwanted pests and disease, that can be damaging to your plants. Root disease is rarely due to a single pathogen, pest or fungi. There are usually as many as three or more different disease organisms that are identified in plant samples that commercial growers submit for diagnosis from their hydroponic systems. NFT systems are typically the most common to have root diseases, although this is most likely due to the fact that the roots are easy to see and get to in this type of system in order to see and identify the problem.

What to look for
Roots of young plants and seedlings cannot be dried out, where established plants can survive for a while when they become dry, the young plants wont be able to survive nearly as well. A young plants root system should have lots of white furry root tips everywhere. A healthy mature root system will be strong and fibrous and will have a thick root mat. If the roots are cream or yellow on top of the mat, they should still have many white root tips underneath at the bottom.

Generally healthy roots will be white in color, and quickly growing. Discoloration usually means there’s a problem Thick, fat, white furry roots are what you want to see, they are absolutely a good sign of healthy root growth. However the color of a nutrient solution will stain the roots, turning them yellow or brown. This is also true about many different nutrient additives, and older more mature plants may have a darker cream colored root system. Some plants will just tend to have a natural color pigment to their roots.

Vigorous root growth below will always mean vigorous plant growth above. The roots act as an anchor to help support the plants and keep them stable as they grow into the growing medium. Plants in aeroponic systems will need added support because they wont have any growing medium to otherwise hold on to, supporting the plant.

Root Zone Problems
Problems can arise for any number of reasons, pathogens, nutrient temp, fungal disease, lack of air/oxygen (commonly known as over watering, or root rot) and even pests. Diseases can also be transferred into a hydroponic system from soil. If the plants are grown in soil, and the roots are then washed off  for transplant into the hydroponic system, these roots can already contain the diseases and simply be transferred directly into your system.

Hydroponic systems are not completely sterile environments, even when starting with sterile growing medium, and plants started in a sterile hydroponic system. Fungi that are well adapted to living in water tends to be the cause of the most severe disease problems. Airborne spores can get into the growing media as well, and with the moisture, nutrients and roots to infect, they have what they need to spread. Many bacterial and virus diseases appear to spread well through nutrient solutions also. There are simply too many different possible infections that the roots are susceptible to, to be able to list them.

How to protect against disease in your hydroponic system
Because it’s practically impossible to maintain a sterile growing environment in any hydroponic system (except in aeroponics) it would be impossible to completely eliminate all the possible diseases the roots can get, but there are some things you can do to guard against them in the first place.

  • You should only start with clean, disease free water to begin with if at all possible.
  • Start with disease free, sterile growing medium.
  • Good hygiene, this helps control the spread of disease, as well as invitations to pests.
  • Sterilization of recirculating nutrient solutions. This would be hard to do for small reservoirs, but large commercial growers usually use either Ultraviolet light, or ozone treatment for there reservoirs. Smaller reservoirs can simply be changed, and the hydroponic system flushed.
  • Use of biological controls, (also called beneficial bacteria, or microbes). Probably the most commonly used  is the “Trichoderma species.”
  • Hormones and other growth promoters, some growers have gotten good results from the use of these products, even though it can be open for debate weather they can protect against disease.
  • Fungicides in nutrient solutions. Chemical fungicides can sometimes be recommended, but will harm the beneficial microbes as well in the process.

Useful Link
Plant disease in hydroponic systems

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