Want bigger plants? Get to the root of the matter

Jun 30, 2012

Plant scientists have imaged and analyzed, for the first time, how a potted plant's roots are arranged in the soil as the plant develops. In this study, to be presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting on 30th June, the team has also found that doubling plant pot size makes plants grow over 40% larger.

From their 3-D root scans, the researchers observed that quickly extend their roots to the pot's walls. It is likely that the plants use their roots to 'sense' the size of the pot, although the details of how the roots relay the message about the pot's size remain the plants' secret.

They also looked at 65 independent studies across a wide range of species including tomato, , , cactus, , and , and found that all species reach larger sizes when grown in a bigger pot. On average, doubling pot size allowed plants to grow 43% larger.

This image shows the roots of a barley plant in a cylindrical pot imaged by MRI 44 days after sowing. Blue roots are in the outer 50 percent of the pot volume, yellow roots are in the inner 50 percent of the pot volume, the stem of the barley plant is in red. Credit: Jonas Bühler

Dr Hendrik Poorter (Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany) who led the study, said: "There has been commercial interest in seeing how small pots can be, but our aim was to see how big a pot needs to be to avoid affecting plant experiments."

This image shows the roots of a sugar beet growing in a cylindrical pot, imaged by MRI 44 days after sowing. Roots in blue grew in the outer 50 percent volume of the pot, roots in yellow grew in the inner 50 percent pot volume, and the storage organ of the sugar beet is in red. Credit: Jonas Bühler

The work is relevant for gardeners too. Poorter added, "After this study, I immediately changed the pot size for all the plants I had in my house."

To understand the pot size effect, the scientists looked at various aspects of the plants' growth. They found that the plants in smaller pots grew more slowly because of a decreased rate of photosynthesis. But, looking for causes for the decrease, the scientists ruled out limitations in water and nutrients and did not find any differences in the thickness of the leaves for plants in smaller pots. It is therefore unlikely that the plants use water and nutrient levels to sense the pot size, supporting the possibility that sensing happens another way, such as by the roots.

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User comments : 8

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Isaacsname
2.5 / 5 (8) Jun 30, 2012
They really needed a study for this ?

It's kind of a common sense thingie, if you know what I mean.
jcyoda
5 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2012
I'm pretty sure that all gardeners know this, and that horticulturists have been teaching it for centuries(?)
bottomlesssoul
3.7 / 5 (9) Jun 30, 2012
They really needed a study for this ?
Yes!

It's kind of a common sense thingie, if you know what I mean.

The primary role of science is to check reality without regard to notions of common sense. Common sense has lead to more misery than we can imagine. Make it a habit to trust traceable experimental evidence whether or not all your friends do. Just because it's a commonly held belief doesn't mean it accurately reflects reality.
A2G
3 / 5 (6) Jul 01, 2012


Just because it's a commonly held belief doesn't mean it accurately reflects reality.


Very astutely written. Does this apply to commonly held beliefs such as Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and Black Holes? For these are also commonly held beliefs that are not directly provable.
Anda
3 / 5 (2) Jul 01, 2012


Just because it's a commonly held belief doesn't mean it accurately reflects reality.


Very astutely written. Does this apply to commonly held beliefs such as Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and Black Holes? For these are also commonly held beliefs that are not directly provable.


... today, but they will or they won't one day
alfie_null
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 01, 2012
Does this apply to commonly held beliefs such as Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and Black Holes? For these are also commonly held beliefs that are not directly provable.

Define "belief". Define "proof". Keep it in the context of scientific inquiry. In your comment, I see implied assertions in the guise of rhetoric.
Archea
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 01, 2012
They really needed a study for this? Yes!
But why? The science which cannot be materialized in money is as useful, as the ballet for the people. I can admit, many people still enjoy it (mine too) - but the people doing ballet aren't payed from public resources. Why scientists should be payed for it, after then?

The question goes deeper: why scientists ignore the apparently useful findings, like the cold fusion (which violate their inetersubjective religion often) and why they're spending their lives in expensive and wasteful proof of trivialities (which cannot threat their authority and social credit)? They became not artists, but a priests of human society, who managed to convince people, they're important for them in similar way, like shamans and druids of primitive ancient society.
pubwvj
1 / 5 (1) Jul 01, 2012
Yes, they needed to study it because they had a grant that paid them to study it. There are a lot of grants for studying obvious things. This keeps these scientists off the street where they might make trouble.

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