Gardeners tend to work during the coolest parts of the day, the morning and evening. In July they are up and at ‘em by sunrise around 6:00 a.m. They spend the middle of the day inside then after dinner they putter around outside until sunset around 9:00 p.m.
By August sunrise is later and sunset is earlier. Plants react to this shorter day, and slowly shut down growing operations in anticipation of winter. Annuals die off, and perennials go dormant. Dormant is the French word for “sleeping.”
Dormant plants “die” above ground, but below decks they are hard at work growing new roots to stock up on gases like oxygen and nitrogen, and dissolved nutrients. A root is one type of plant vessel that conducts fluids. Think about slurping through a straw, and you are on the road to understanding the main work of plant roots.
Above ground plant parts are gussied up with a water repellant wax called cutin, but roots slink around in their birthday suits. Their job is to live it up– eat, drink, and be merry!
Each root is covered with tiny cells called root hairs. Some are visible protuberances, some are not, but like the folds in our brains, root hairs exponentially increase a root’s surface, and its ability to eat and drink. Carrots, for example, have a single gigantic taproot with stray white hairs. Lettuces on the other hand have a tangle of little roots that look like damp hair in need of conditioner.
Roots are microorganism flophouses. Beneficial soil fungi and bacteria live on and inside roots where, among other things, they trap gases they find in tiny air pockets in tilled soil. Imagine microscopic chemists combining hydrogen and oxygen gases to get water, or better yet, alchemists turning base lead into gold.
The fungi and bacteria deliver their new products to the roots that transport them to plant cells that break the products down into amino acids.
Amino acids are chemical compounds cell nuclei use to assemble a second pair of chromosomes when they divide, and cell division is how plants grow to become mature food.
Roots function as starch silos. They store carbohydrates the plant uses to concoct sugars. Tiny particles of electricity hold sugar molecules together. When sugars break apart they fling away their energy particles which the plant gobbles up and uses to keep itself alive. Thus plants have a limited ability, in their own little sphere of life, to act when they access sugar, a source of power. All this starts with healthy roots, healthy soil and microbes, and healthy air and water.