The substrate

The different functions and main characteristics of the substrate

By substrate we mean a material composed of organic, inorganic substances and nutritional elements, designed to accommodate a plant that must be grown outside its natural environment. It performs two main functions, that of giving stability to the plant by providing protection and an anchoring point to the roots, and that of absorbing and transmitting the water and nutrients it needs to grow and develop in the best way. The needs of plants are so many and varied that there is no universal substrate, suitable for every species, nor, on the other hand, a specific substrate for every single variety. It is necessary to find the right balance between the various components, to obtain a substrate that has the most suitable characteristics for each plant. We have, for example,

The components of the substrate: organic, inorganic and inert materials

A substrate is made up of one or more organic and inorganic elements, often mixed together to exploit their different properties. Among those of an organic nature there are coconut fiber, barks, but the most used component is peat, a more or less decomposed plant material, in particular that of sphagnum, due to its great ability to store and release water and to maintain constant humidity and good ventilation. Inorganic materials have the important function of making the substrate permeable and light, the most used are sand, generally river sand, gravel, expanded clay, perlite, volcanic lapilli, rock wool. The choice of the most suitable substrate depends not only on the species to be cultivated, but also on the environment and the techniques to be used.

The substrate for terrestrial plants grown in pots: the soil

For plants that have their roots in the earth, the substrate consists mainly of soil, usually undergrowth soil to which certain nutritional elements are added. It is a mixture in which organic, inorganic and chemical elements are present. Among the organic materials the most used is sphagnum peat, very rich in humus, able to absorb water and transfer it to the plant. The inorganic ones have the function of keeping the soil well drained and porous, the most common are clay and sand. There are different types of soil on the market, from the universal one, which meets the basic needs of all plants, or at least the less demanding ones, to those whose consistency and composition is designed to best meet the needs of particular categories, such as plants. fat, flowering plants, green plants. It is also possible to obtain a good, highly nutritious soil in an easy and economical way, with the domestic composting of organic kitchen and garden waste.

The substrates for aquatic plants, epiphytes and for reproduction

There are also specific substrates for plants that require particular cultivation techniques. Epiphytic plants, aerial plants like many orchids, have evolved to survive in dim environments, adapting to live attached to a support, a tree or a rock, to rise and reach brighter areas, and therefore live with uncovered roots and pendulous. The substrate must be light, allow aeration of the roots and not suffocate them. It is available on the market ready-made or can be composed with coconut fiber, sphagnum peat or bark. Then there are substrates for plants grown in aquariums, which must provide anchoring and nutrients, and often also have an aesthetic function. The substrates on the market are usually mixtures of sand of various origins with peat-based soil, enriched with slow release fertilizing elements. With proper liquid fertilization, even simple inert gravel is sufficient. Rooting of the cuttings also requires a particular substrate, which must guarantee constant humidity and good ventilation. It typically consists of a mixture of sand, peat and clay.

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