Everyone has heard the phrase “let’s get to the root of the problem.” With plants, this can be applied both figuratively and literally. As the roots of our plants are buried in soil, it is easy to not pay much attention to what they look like and if they are healthy and functioning well. The roots of our plants can tell us a lot about the overall health of our plants. Roots perform a number of important functions for plants as they help anchor the plant, absorb and store water, food, and nutrients. For these reasons, a healthy plant must have a healthy root system.

Looking at the roots of a plant is much like looking under the hood of a car — the problem isn’t obvious until you look a little deeper. In fact, many greenhouse growers and farmers spend more time inspecting the roots of their plants than anything else. Looking at the roots gives growers an early heads-up to many potential problems. Waiting to discover a problem above ground can be costly. To stay ahead of the curve, root inspections are particularly helpful.


What to look for when inspecting roots

Try inspecting the roots of plants in smaller containers (larger plants are more difficult). Generally, the whiter the roots, the healthier the plant will be. As plants grow older the roots can turn darker in color but the same principle applies. Roots that appear brown, black, soft or rotted indicate an unhealthy plant. A rotting, foul odor may also be present. The problem could have developed due to any of the following:

  • Over or under-watering
  • Poorly drained soils
  •  Excessive dryness
  • Root rotting diseases
  • Toxic material/excessive salts in the soil

If you are caring for indoor plants in your home, get more familiar with the root system of your plants. When watering plants, remember that the roots need water and air (they drink, but they also need to breathe).  This will help us keep our plants healthy, more attractive, and most importantly — alive!

Green Side Up,

Senior Horticulturist, Matt Kostelnick