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Although we learn from a very young age what a plant’s basic needs are to survive, these facts are completely lost as we grow older. We tend to forget the inner workings of our plants, and this can result in worse care, especially when we start treating all of our plants exactly the same. All plants require the basics, but each plant is unique and reacts differently to the environment.
The basic needs of any plant are; light, air, water, and nutrients (LAWN) and then space + temperature. A plant can only survive when all of these elements are in perfect balance, if they’re not, some aspect of the plant will suffer and could even potentially die if we’re not careful.
So, let’s take a look at all these elements and how they internally affect our plants
What Do Plants Need to Survive (And Thrive)?
For plants, the importance of light is not the heat of the sun, but rather the energy the sun gives off. Like how we absorb Vitamin D from the sun’s rays, plants absorb that very energy to make glucose, a sugar in the leave which enables the plant to grow stronger and faster. This also sets into motion the process of photosynthesis, a process in which the plant uses sunlight to help make nutrients for itself.
Good sunlight is absolutely essential for a plant. Although it might be able to recover from poor nutrients or bad air, a plant without sunlight will die pretty quickly.
Too little sun: The plant will wither and grow much more slowly. And it won’t be as strong to protect itself from pests and parasites.
Too much sun: Your plant will also wither, but will instead begin to dry out. Although most plants need some sunlight, other plants can survive on much more or far less depending on the species. A cactus species, for example, will function easily in a dry humid hot sun, whereas something like the Bromeliad, will instead require indirect sun and a wetter climate.
We often take air for granted, but plants are absolutely dependant on air for survival. Like all living things on earth, plants need oxygen to survive, without it, they will simply shrivel up and die. They have a sort of respiratory system, but unlike our own, their system actually cleans out the air.
Yes, although plants actually create oxygen for us to breathe by absorbing the carbon dioxide, they also use small amounts of oxygen to stay alive. Some plants are even called ‘air cleaners’ so good are they in purifying the air.
When plants are in shady spots, they will actually absorb more oxygen than normal to compensate for the loss of the sun. Also, a plant’s root system will also absorb oxygen in the soil. This is why it’s so important to have soil with good drainage and which isn’t tightly compacted.
A plant with little to no oxygen will begin to droop. And plants in compacted soil, or which have been planted too deeply, will have their roots breach the surface in search of air. Some trees, if they’re desperate enough, will push up their secondary root system in a desperate attempt to find oxygen, so be sure not to bury your trees in the ground. They need to breathe!
Make sure you give your indoor plants some fresh air if they can handle it. It’s quite common for indoor plants to suffer from a lack of oxygen, we forget to put them near a windowsill or a space with good airflow. Now airflow can also cause fungi to form and can attract other pests into your home. However, keep in mind some sensitive flowers don’t like sudden bursts of wind, so make sure what your plant prefers and accommodate accordingly.
The drink of life. Much like air, without water every living thing on earth would perish, plants included. Water also helps with photosynthesis, but the main function works much like our own bloodstream. Water helps move nutrients from the soil to leaves, without water the process would slow down and it will begin to look poorly.
Too little water: The plant will begin to dry out and slowly wilt.
Too much water: Browning of leaves, root rot will set in and the plant will also wilt due to the extra amount of moisture.
What is surprising is how quickly a plant can recover once it’s given water. So be sure your plants are getting enough water every day!
Plants gather nutrients from the soil, without good soil the plant will begin to suffer for it. We often neglect our soil picks, choosing to go for the cheapest or whatever is on hand, but some plants require some very specific soil, and if you don’t add it to the mix, you will soon see a droopy plant in your garden.
Plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These nutrients, once they are dissolved in water, can be absorbed into the plant via the roots. So, water serves a double function; to keep the plant’s system running and to help the roots absorb the minerals in the soil. This is always why you need to add minerals from time to time, as they dissolved over time and are absorbed by the roots, the soil becomes poor in nutrients, and your plants will struggle to grow.
Too little nutrients: necrosis is one of the biggest signs of poor nutrients. Essentially parts of the plant will simply die and cannot be saved. This can be extended to the root system. So, when you spot dead or dying parts on your plant, immediately check the roots to see if they have any further damage to them.
Too many nutrients: Yip! You can give your plant far too much fertilizer and end up making it sick. Dropping of leaves, slow growth or browning, and yellowing of leaves can be a sign of too much fertilizer.
This is one of those elements of gardening that green gardeners often forget about. Root systems can sometimes stretch much farther than the plant’s leaves and branches. As such, if you plant them close together, you’ll get root entanglements and eventually a sick plant as it can’t stretch out to absorb oxygen and nutrients in the soil it needs.
This is why research is so very important when gardening or planting. If you know how far the root system will stretch, you can estimate the perfect spot for your plant. This often happens to trees, when we misjudge how much space the poor thing needs, the tree will eventually suffer for it.
The climate of a plant is very important. Too hot and it will die, too cold and it will die. This is why picking plants that will work in your climate is so important. Anything below 45 degrees will most likely kill your plant. 90 degrees, in turn, is far too hot for most plants.
Each species is different and will require different climates in order to survive. So double-check before buying that Peace Lily, that it won’t keel over in the first heatwave.
Too hot: The plant will begin to dry out at the very tips of the leaves. If left unchecked the whole plant will slowly begin to dry out as moisture is sucked up into the air and it will die. The best way to combat this is to simply keep your plant cool with some water and to ensure it has a shady spot when the sun gets high.
Too cold: Check for brown or white spots on the leaves. This is usually a sign of dying cells. Your plant will die eventually as necrosis sets in. The best way to combat this is to move the plant inside, or if it’s already inside, move it to a warmer spot in the house. Cold can be far more damaging than heat, so keep a close on your plants when that snowstorm hits.
You might be interested to read also: Everything you need to know about The Eco Garden System
Plants’ needs are pretty basic, but their inner workings are anything but. They are, much like us, living breathing creatures who are absolutely at the mercy of their environment, and our care. If you love your plants, your purpose should always be to ensure their happiness, and the best way to do that is to not only give them what they ask, but to give it in the correct quantities and types.
Because although plants are all basically the same, they are still each unique in their own wonderful way.