In my first tip, I discussed the importance and reasoning behind regular pruning maintenance on your Aerogarden (and even if you have a traditional garden, those facts still apply, with the caveat that your plants are not going to actually reach the big burning grow light in the sky).
This strong suggestion, however, is more specifically geared towards the hydroponic nature of Aerogarden, and that is —
TRIM THE ROOTS OF YOUR PLANTS.
Yes, that’s right. You heard me correctly.
Here’s the first “why” of the matter: Inside the tank of your garden, where you pour both your water and plant food, there’s a water pump to keep things circulating nicely. Without it, the tank would be ripe for growing molds and allowing bugs to propagate. Imagine opening the tank to refill it only to be greeted by a dank wet-sock smell — we’re talking left-it-in-the-washer-for-two-weeks-still-wet — and little wriggling indeterminate specks flickering around and diving for cover between the spidery webbing of submerged root systems.
Not a pretty thing to think about, is it?
Therefore, we must look out for our friend the water pump. For reasons I’m not precisely sure of (and someone is welcome to enlighten me on this), the roots love to reach into the machinery, through the thin layer of spongy mesh covering it, and just generally gum up the works. So, every now and then, check inside the tank by carefully lifting the lid to make sure all roots are clear of the pump. If they’re not, take your pruning shears or a long pair of scissors and snip them away.
You can, if necessary, remove the whole lid of the tank to better service the pump and clear any roots from it. Just do it gingerly so as to not kill your plants!
In fact, you can complete this root check more easily when completely switching out the water in your garden, which I’ll talk about in an upcoming post.
The second why of the matter: Remember when I mentioned how plants like to crowd each other out with their leaves? As above, so below, as they say. Leaves seek one primary form of nutrition through light, and so the roots seek theirs in water and soil. If left unchecked, roots will spread and spread to choke out other plants and kill them off, because they’re competition for the same resources.
I had a beautiful basil plant that I tended in the Aerogarden for 267 days, with tender leaves that made homemade pizzas and pesto sauces taste amazing. Until one day, it needed to go. Beyond stick-a-fork-in-me-done, we’d gone far into uncharted terror territory in that garden. All for a silly mistake I’ll chronicle at a later date, but I digress…
What I discovered while completing said eviction was, in all honesty, horrifying. All I needed to do was get the plant out, and so I lifted the lid up and away, having already sheared the top down to a single, sad, stumpy stalk. But then, there it was.
A. Solid. Block. Of roots.
I broke a pair of scissors trying to cut everything out of the tank.
I was afraid I had broken the pump and ruined the whole garden. We’re talking several compressed inches of just roots, melding and plaiting and twisting together into this massively fibrous chunk of stringy mass.
Because of disgust and determination in equal measure, with a dash of too much adrenaline to remember to take photos at the time, I offer you this meager visual:
For the sake of sanity, spare yourself the nightmare fuel. If the roots start to go nuts and spread all over the garden, trim them down. If they start to choke out the roots of other plants, trim them down.
After that dive into the surreal, I’ll leave you with a third, and much more pleasant, reason to keep the roots manageable in the garden: should you decide to eventually transfer your plants to a soil-based system later on, keeping the roots trimmed will allow you to easily lift the pod completely from the garden.
For the record, I have not explored this sort of transfer, but some online Aerogarden troubleshooting revealed that many start the pods and grow them to a certain point of maturity before transferring them.
The TL;DR for TRIMMING THE ROOTS of your Aerogarden:
- Trimming keeps the pump clear and able to function correctly, preventing bugs and mold growth.
- Trimming keeps root systems from becoming too cumbersome, dense, or threatening to other plants in your garden.
- Trimming allows you the option of transferring your plants to a soil-based environment at a later point of growth.