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Air Pruning for Denser, More Efficient Hydroponics Roots

Air Pruning Makes Your Roots More Dense and Effective Air Pruning Makes Your Roots More Dense and Effective

When I first started hydroponics gardening, I grew from seed using peat pots. I had a 50% success rate, which wasn’t good enough. When I started hydroponics cloning, I had about a 60% success rate. Again…not good enough.

I got some hydroponics books, and asked questions at the local grow store. This led me to experiment with different seed germination methods, different cloning methods, and different materials.

I used rockwool cubes, and when they became available, coco cubes. I tried different hydroponics rooting gels and rooting powders.

After two years of full-time growing, I was able to reliably get seeds to sprout, or to get cuttings to root. My percentages for both increased to 90% success rate and above.

But as a hydroponics grower, you know that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. And as I carefully observed my plants over time, I learned a lot about hydroponics nutrients, beneficial root zone microbes, plant genetics, pruning methods, root zone media, growing systems, lighting, climate control and other factors.

One reason I learned about them is because I was troubleshooting a persistent problem that occurred no matter what method I used. It took me a long time to define the problem, or to see direct evidence of it.

I often felt like a surgeon or a diagnostic physician probing a body trying to identify a mysterious problem that was sapping the strength and productivity of my patient.

If only one could obtain glimpse of a tumor, a parasite, a defective organ…anything that would explain the lack of thriving.

In the case of my hydroponics plant “patients,” the puzzling malady included these factors:  the plants had the proper color, they resisted diseases and pests, they produced quality albeit small harvests, they would hit bumps where their growth slowed, and they didn’t uptake nutrients as fast as they should.

And yet the leaves were fine, and the flowers looked good and had high value, although the overall yields were below average.

I tinkered with everything- changing nutrients, root zone media, etc. Finally, at the end of a crop cycle, I turned my harvested plants upside down and shook them out of their buckets.

It was then that I had my first inkling of what was wrong; what I saw was that the root system of each plant although healthy, was undeveloped. It didn’t even fill half the pot!

I called the tech support people at Advanced Nutrients, because I was using all their root stimulating products such as Voodoo Juice, Tarantula and Piranha, and I wasn’t very happy with the small roots. I couldn’t figure out why my roots were so undeveloped.

Their tech expert immediately told me that although the root stimulating products are proven to assist roots, the problem is that I was creating small roots by the way I started and transplanted my plants.

He said that regardless if you use root stimulating products, or grow in blocks or cubes, if you use too much moisture during the first few days of watering seedlings or cuttings, and then place your seedlings or cuttings too soon into or onto a larger block of root zone media that is also very moist, the roots will grow down and sparse, instead of thick. Or they may circle your pots inside, which also interferes with nutrients/water uptake.

The cure for this is a process called air pruning. Instead of waiting for a few roots to grow in your initial rooting cubes or pucks, or instead of putting the cubes or pucks in a tray of water or on rockwool or in a root zone media that’s wet, you keep the cubes or pucks elevated (perhaps by using an oven drying rack that’s lifted from the bottom of a tray) so that there’s air on all sides of the cube or puck, as well as the bottom.

You then keep the cube or puck well moisturized. What happens is that your cuttings or seedlings will send roots to the perimeters of their puck or cube, the roots will hit the air, and the dry air itself will “prune” the roots. It forces them back into the core root zone area, so they become more densely branched.

Your plants develop many side branching roots that occupy their rooting cube or puck, rather than a bunch of long roots that extend out the bottom for several inches. The air pruning technique is like pruning the top of your plants to get them to produce more branching, except that it prunes your tap root (main root) so you get branched roots.

And after you have dense root balls contained in your cubes or pucks, you transplant into hydroponics media that’s irrigated properly so your plants are still required to generate new short, dense roots, rather than long roots.

I also recommend you use House & Garden Roots Excelurator, a rather expensive root stimulator that’s known as the best on the market. It really makes a big difference in the size and power of your roots.

You also want to use your liquid root zone beneficials such as Tarantula, Piranha and Voodoo Juice. These beneficials create a healthier, stronger root mass.

Air pruning is a little-known but very professional way to give yourself abundant roots, thick roots, rather than long, spindly roots. When I mastered this technique in my hydroponics gardening, I saw my growth and yield problems melt away, and my plants gave me almost 40% more yield than before.

There are a few companies making root pruner pots or other devices. Only one or two of these devices is appropriate for hydroponics gardening. Ask your hydroponics retailer for information on air pruning technology, and happy rooting.

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Last modified on Thursday, 21 October 2010 21:59

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