The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Root hairs

Root hairs

I've been reading a lot of tidbits about root hairs over the last couple of years.  Various sources have explained that root hairs are the only parts of a root that take up most nutrients.  Others add that root hairs are only formed on the tips of growing roots and live for just two to three weeks.  Presumably, that means you should time your compost application for the periods when root hairs are being actively formed.

Michael Phillips asserts that fruit trees go through cycles of root growth, alternating with Microscopic root hairsshoot growth, so you can expect your trees to be actively taking up nutrients primarily in mid spring, late summer, and fall.  Someone else (I think it was Robert Kourik) explained that tree roots keep growing until the ground gets below 40 degrees (if my memory serves).  By keeping the soil warm, a good autumn mulch can give your plant extra growing time, and, similarly, fall-planting (in zone 5 and warmer) gives trees a jumpstart on the year ahead.

But I felt like I was missing a critical link in my understanding of root hairs.  For example, are those white roots in the photograph above (from a black raspberry) root hairs?  Wikipedia suggests not, saying that root hairs are single cells elongating sideways away from the main root, and are generally invisible to the naked eye.  On the other hand, since new root hairs are found on new roots, and new roots are white, I suspect I can use color as a rough estimate of where root hairs are present.

And can I take Michael Phillips' assertion about seasonality to be true of all perennials?  I'm sure each species has its own cycle of root growth --- perhaps the only way to know is to keep an eye out for white roots in the few instances when I'm messing in the dirt around my woody plants.  If anyone has found a source with data on root growth seasonality for the common fruiting plants, I'd love to see it!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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From my studies in forestry root growth and leaf growth do happen at alternate times of the year. Most root growth happens early spring and fall (makes sense since the leaves are pushing all the nutrients back into the roots so that they can have energy for the next year).

I would expect all perennial plants follow the same pattern.

Comment by BW Fri Oct 11 15:59:13 2013

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