By Henry Soto, Account Manager
In the line of work that I am in, it never fails that when visiting a friend or family member I am always asked about a plant that seems to not be doing well. Either it looks sick or is just not growing the way it was expected to grow. In these cases I want to give the shortest, quickest answer that would benefit the situation. Obviously many plant problems would need further diagnosis, but understanding the basic needs can allows us to make adjustments that would be beneficial.
Keeping this in mind, I was always wondering if there was some little piece of information that I could share with others that would help them better understand what is happening. Something that would give a basic understanding to what is going on.
As a result, I researched plant diseases and plant pests focusing on identification and treatment. What I discovered is that there are so many problems that can occur with many possible remedies. This tended to make things a bit more confusing and overwhelming!
In my research I took many workshops and visited many farms. On one of my visits to an organic farm I encountered a farmer who had a different perspective on how we look at plant problems. This perspective seemed to simplify what can be quite confusing. Over a glass of wine while we waited for lunch to be served, he pulled out a white board and drew a diagram labeling 4 elements. And in a few words explained that by bringing these 4 elements into balance, a plant will grow and thrive, being able to fend off most pests and diseases. He pointed out that all plant problems can be associated with one or more of the elements being out of balance. One point he made that stuck out was that pests are merely agents of mercy and will attack a sick and struggling plant that is out of balance. Kind of made me think of the saying ‘The right plant in the right place.’ This was it! All the problems we encounter are just symptoms of something else that is going on. To get to the root of the problem is to find out which aspect is out of balance.
Plants have an amazing ability to defend themselves from pests and diseases. When all of the plants requirements are met and in balance, plants can defend themselves by altering the chemicals of their leaves making them unappealing or toxic.
The 4 elements that he was referring to are: Air, Water, light (sun) & minerals (earth). Most plant problems can be attributed to one or more of these areas being out of balance. Understanding the role each of these elements plays is the basis for being able to prevent and remedy problems.
All plants need water for rigidity and to facilitate nutrient movement. Too much or too little will lead to numerous problems.
Plants breathe, taking in both carbon dioxide and oxygen. Each are used differently by plants. Just keep in mind that respiration is essential so good air flow through the plant is key for a healthy plant.
Light is needed for photosynthesis. Plants use different spectrums of light for different processes. The sun is key for providing the full spectrum. Different plants can take different intensities of the sun. While some plants can take the full intensity of the sun, others can’t and thrive off filtered light.
Minerals are used by plants in all their processes. These can be broken down into macro and micro nutrients. Macro refers to nutrients that are used in large amounts while micro nutrients are used in trace amounts. These trace nutrients are essential for plants to generate their own defense. Most soils will contain a wide array of nutrients, but can also be deficient in certain nutrients. Simple soil tests can give a snap shot of what nutrients are in the soil and at what concentrations.
Understanding these four elements and how they are used, will help in identifying what could be causing our problem. Taking these elements into consideration, we must also know what is normal for a particular plant. A balanced environment for one plant will not necessarily be the same for another plant. Having some basic information about the plant in question, is the starting point in determining if one or more of these elements are out of balance.
Although this is not a way to identify a specific problem, it is a guide that will help us to determine what is causing the problem. When we can identify when one of these elements is out of balance, we are able to take steps to bring the plant back into balance and will often head off many potential problems.