Deb Babcock: The ABCs of plant growth


Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

Most of us know that our plants need water, sun, soil nutrients and warmth. But many gardeners give little thought to how the plant uses those elements to create foliage, blooms, seeds or root growth.

By understanding how your garden plants grow, you'll have a better handle on how to remedy problems in the garden when they inevitably occur.

The leaves of your plant are where life-sustaining food is made. When sunlight reaches the chlorophyll in the leaves, a process called photosynthesis converts the nutrients from the soil into a form that the plant can digest. The leaves also take in carbon dioxide from the air through their pores and expel oxygen and water vapor in a process called transpiration. This keeps the plant perky and fresh.

That's why it is important to provide your plants with adequate space in the garden. Plants that are densely packed into a space have a difficult time competing for sunlight and gaining enough air circulation to breathe and eat. Also, leaf-eating insects - such as the grasshoppers - can stunt or halt the growth of your plants if too much of the foliage is destroyed by insects.

Roots of your plants take on several duties vital to plant growth. The root hairs draw water and nutrients from the soil into the plant. You'll find root hairs close to the surface of the soil as well as at the outermost edges of the root system. When a plant is transplanted or its root system disturbed, the fragile root hairs are easily damaged, making it difficult for the plant to draw water and nutrients up to its leaves where they are converted to a usable form.

Roots also provide an anchor for your plants, especially important in the Steamboat area with our gusty winds. The main roots hold the plant upright and play a role in transporting water and nutrients up to the leaves.

Finally, roots store food to help a plant make it through the winter.

The stem of your plant is the highway by which nutrients and water taken by roots from the soil travel to the leaves. Stems also support the leaves, flowers, berries and fruit as well as serve as a food storage center.

The flowers of your garden plant are the reproductive centers that form seeds. If you want additional plants for next year, leave the seed heads on your plants. By deadheading as soon as the blooms are spent, you often get a second flowering and avoid cramming your garden with too many plants by having seeds sprout next spring.

By knowing the job of each part of your plant, you can take steps to ensure that your plants achieve the healthy growth you desire.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or log onto


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