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Introduction to the root zone
Root zone health and color

feeding on exudate
general root tonics and stimulators
beneficials at the root zone
root health and pathogen control
spotlight on enzymatic formulas
using good microbes to fight the bad ones
the other route: keeping the reservoir sterile
root rot and pythium
how to avoid a bad case of root rot
what to do if you have a bacterial or fungal infection


Plant roots have two basic functions: they anchor plants and they extract water & minerals. The roots are arguably the most important part of a plant as root mass is directly proportional to the size and yield of a plant. This is one of the most easily damaged parts of a plant. It is crucial to practice good preventative care - it is much harder to eradicate an existing problem. If you want to maximize the the health & ultimate yield of your plants, it is wise to have a clear picture of the crucial activites occurring at the root zone.

Roots are made up of tough, fibrous tissues containing cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin which branch into the soil mass (or grow media), anchoring a plant firmly. Their basic functions are critical for plant survival: they absorb water, oxygen, and minerals, which they conduct to where they are needed. With a strong and healthy root zone, plants are able to access the nutrients for vigorous growth. Without a healthy root system, your plants are doomed to be weak and spindly, or even worse, dead.

A healthy root zone is continuously growing. In many plants this cycle includes the natural death of older roots and the production of new ones. This cycle of death and regeneration is often mistaken by growers as a sign of disease, but so long as there are new roots developing, some root death should not be a concern.

EC/ TDS & pH
A nutrient strength level that is too high can be toxic to the root zone and will cause poor and stunted growth. At extreme levels, it will actually kill the root zone. It is best to increase nutrient levels gradually over time rather than suddenly and all at once.

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Root Zone Health and Color
A young plant’s root system should have lots of white furry root tips everywhere. A healthy mature root system will be strong and fibrous and will have a thick root mat. If the roots are cream or yellow on top of the mat, they should still have many white root tips underneath at the bottom.

Thick, fat, white furry roots are what you want to see; they are absolutely indicative of healthy root growth. Be aware however that the color of some nutrient solutions will stain the roots, turning them yellow or brown. This is also true of many nutrient additives. Older, more mature plants will have a darker cream-colored root system, and some plants just tend to have naturally pigmented roots.

Root Zone Temperature
The temperature of the root zone and the temperature of the nutrient solution can have a major effect on the healthy growth and appearance of the root system. In general the temperature should be between 68 - 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder or warmer conditions can cause poor and stunted root growth, as the roots don't want to grow into the inhospitable nutrient solution. Major root death can occur in even brief periods of cold or heat stress. Poor temperature conditions leave the door open to root disease.

Oxygen at the Root Zone
Lack of oxygen at the root zone is the leading cause of root death. Roots NEED oxygen. Roots should never sit in stagnant or pooling nutrient solution - make sure the trays are tilted and supported to drain completely. Lack of oxygen can also be caused by decomposing organic material in the nutrient solution or trays - this material should always be removed.  Another problem can be too many plants competing for too little oxygen. These problems are worsened by high root zone temperatures.

Nutrient reservoirs should always be aerated by and air pump and air stones. You can never have too much oxygen, so the more and stronger air pumps used, the better. We have had great success adding air stones to the growing trays themselves, to supplement the root zone area with additional oxygen. Some growers use H202 to add additional oxygen, as well.

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The root zone of a plant is buzzing with life – essential processes of incredible complexity. This zone of intensive activity is called the rhizosphere. The root itself makes up part of the rhizosphere (the endorhizosphere), while the root hairs, mucigel, and root cells that have sloughed off constitute the ectorhizosphere.

A plant actually grows its own garden of microbes along the surfaces of the root. To do this, the light energy captured from photosynthesis in the leaves is channeled down the stem through the phloem vessels and out through epidermal cells to the external root surface. Up to 80% of the total plant energy is exuded as mucigel into the ectorhizosphere as carbohydrates, amino acids, and other energy-rich compounds. Billions of bacteria, fungi, algae, actinomycetes, protozoa, and other microbes feed upon this exudate.

Those Phenomenal Mycorrhizae
Especially important are the mycorrhizal fungi which extend their thread-like hyphae from inside root cells out into the soil for several millimeters. They extend the feeding volume of a root by 10 to 1,000 times or more bringing nutrients back to the root. There are two types - ectomycorrhiza and endomycorrhiza.

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Feeding On Exudate
In return for the release of nutritional substances from plant roots, microbes produce chemicals that stimulate plant growth and/or protect the plant from attack. This large array of substances include auxins, enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, indoles and antibiotics. These complex molecules are able to pass from the soil into the plant, with minimal change to chemical structure, where they stimulate plant growth, increase metabolic functions and enhance plant reproduction. As these molecules are released into the rhizosphere, they serve as food and growth stimulants for a healthy mix of microbes.

The rhizosphere is always functioning for the plant whether it is growing in a field, in a planter, in a hydroponic media, or even in a lake or ocean. The details of function may differ somewhat, but the principles are the same in order for the plant to survive.

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General Root Tonics And Stimulators

Advanced Nutrients B-52: Formulated to give plants a boost of energy by raising the rate of metabolism, B-52 increases nutrient uptake by providing naturally occurring hormones and vitamins which are missing in macro / micro hydroponic nutrient formulas. B-52 can be used during a plant’s entire lifetime from seed to harvest. B-52 is ideal for hydroponic, soil or any other growing medium.

CANNA RhizotoNIC: An organic root stimulator, Rhizotonic is suitable for both soil and hydroponics. This is a powerful, organic stress-reliever which provides hormones and vitamins to help stimulate new fuzzy, white root development, increase resistance against disease, and improve the vigor of plants.

Roots Excelurator: The strongest product we have for preventing and combating root disease. Comprised of beneficial microbes and a proprietary blend of other beneficial molecules, nothing works as well as Excelurator(yep, that's how it's spelled). It will blow roots WAY OUT within 3-5 days and keep them super healthy the entire cycle.

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Certain forms of Bacillus are known to inhibit pythium and other pathogens. One of these is bacillus subtilis and is found in Aqua Shield, Tarantula and Great White. Several varieties of Bacillus have been found to play a role in the conversion of unavailable forms of phosphates into plant available forms. In natural settings they can provide near 10% of the available phosphorous in the soil solution. Bacillus can function as a back up, providing hungry blooms with phosphorous if they should become otherwise unavailable. Bacillus actually cleans the roots & disinfects them, also helping to synthesize hormones & enzymes.

Mycorrhizal Fungi
These fungi colonize the outer cells of plant roots and extend long fungal threads, or hyphae, far out into the rhizosphere, forming a critical link between the plant roots and the growing media. Mycorrhizae produce enzymes that decompose organic matter, make phosphorus and other nutrients from inorganic rock much more soluble, and convert nitrogen into plant-available forms. They also greatly expand the area from which a plant can absorb water. In return for this activity, mycorrhizae obtain valuable carbon and other nutrients from the plant roots. This is a win-win relationship between both partners, the plant providing food for the fungus and the fungus providing both nutrients and water to the plant.

Nitrosomonas Bacteria & Nitrobacteria
Nitrosomonas is a species of aerobic bacteria which converts ammonia to nitrite, and is one of the critical bacteria in the nitrogen cycle. Nitrosomonas eat ammonia, they absolutely LOVE it. They convert plant-available ammonium (NH4) to unavailable nitrite (NO2). Nitrobacteria then convert the nitrite (NO2) into nitrate (NO3), an important form of highly-absorbable nitrogen that all plants need.

Bacteria that secrete a variety of compounds including antibiotics that prevent and control root zone pathogens. A closely related species of Streptomyces produces the antibiotic that humans use, streptomycin. Many studies have demonstrated the bacteria’s effectiveness at controlling root diseases and some foliar diseases. An interesting consideration noted in one study is that they will also reduce levels of some nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil.

Trichoderma fungi have been observed physically attacking and destroying pathogenic fungi. Strains of trichoderma are found naturally occurring in many soils and play a role in the prevention and control of root pathogens. Trichoderma can degrade chitin, a structural component found in pathogenic fungi and in insects. Many forms of coco coir contain trichoderma naturally, such as CANNA's Coco Growing Media. If a healthy root environment is maintained, the fungi will continue to colonize the roots and multiply.

A note about Colonizing Growing Media:
If you are using beneficials, you will want to use one of the growing media that is hospitable to innoculation, such as coco or rockwool or Soil. Although rockwool works, It is not as aerated as the coco. Coco also has naturally occuring enzymes which are GREAT! for roots, and is a natural habitat for Trichoderma. There are great coco net cup liners which can be filled with a combination of perlite/pumice and coco coir.

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Root Health and Pathogen Control
In a healthy root enviornment, “microherd” groups of microbes colonize the rhizosphere of the plant. Most are beneficial bacteria and fungi; they do not damage living plant tissue and are critical to making essential minerals available to the plant. These microbes retain large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, calcium, iron and many micronutrients in their bodies, preventing these nutrients from being leached or removed by water runoff. Mycorrhizal fungi form an almost impenetrable physical barrier on the surface of plant roots - Ideally, they out-compete pathogenic species. It is usually only when the beneficial species are killed by toxic chemicals that pathogenic species have an advantage.

In hydroponics we can promote a plant's rhizosphere health by insuring it has the proper minerals, as well as keeping the root zone well-aerated to allow for good air and water movement. We strongly suggest using Roots Excelurator, the strongest root tonic that we have ever come across; not only does it create a HUGE amount of roots - it keeps them extremely happy and healthy as long as you use it. It is a powerful organic stress reliever which stimulates new root development, increases disease resistance and improves plant vigor.

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Spotlight on Enzymatic Formulas
Small, yet amazingly powerful -- enzymes have a variety of important benefits for the grower. There are two types of enzymes that we are most concerned with: There are those that accelerate sugar/ resin production, creating flavor and aroma. Then, there are those that break down dead plant proteins (leaves and roots) into amino acids, lipids and smaller molecules which can be reabsorbed by the plant and the beneficial microbes, thus preventing those proteins from being food for pathogens.

Hygrozyme: This is a great enhancing enzyymatic formula. It prevents the formation of pythium and algae, and facilitates chemical nutrient assimilation. It will also create healthy white root growth in your plants. Hygrozyme is not a digestive enzyme solution, rather a plant growth & metabolism stimulant.

SensiZym: This is a super concentrate of over 80 different enzymes, each having specific functions that enhance plant and root growth. Great for soil or hydroponics, SensiZym is made by Advanced Nutrients to work with their full line of beneficial microbes (Piranha, Tarantula,Vermi-T, Great White, and Voodoo Juice). It is fine with any other form of beneficials you might add to the reservoir. SensiZym not only breaks down plant proteins, but also provides enzymes that are a catalyst for total plant and root development.

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Using Good Microbes to fight the Bad Ones
There are countles beneficials and they have a vast variety of functions, ranging from the breakdown of nitrogen into useable forms, to cleaning the roots, to warding off negative microbiological pathogens. These good microbes also activate, enrich & stimulate the roots - They help to create beautiful fuzzy white root growth like you have never seen before. The new array of products on the market can be confusing and misleading. We sell products that we have personal experience with an really believe in. Some of them can be mixed and matched:

Vermi - T - This is a powerful blend of over 30,000 microbes, including Mychorizae, Trichoderma, Benefical bacteria, Ciliates, Protozoa, and nematodes. It is very effective at building a healthy root zone and warding off pathogens, synthesizing a cornucopia of hormones & enzymes for faster, fuller, stronger and BETTER growth.

Plant Success Soluble Root Innoculant: A soluble blend of humic acid, endomycorrhiza and ectomycorrhiza. Also has a host of beneficial bacterium. A fine powder that dissolves. For soil or coco.

Piranha: Colonizes the root zone with 26 beneficial fungi. These fungi are 8 species of trichoderma and 18 species endo and ecto mycorrhizal. These are very aggressive colonizers that enhance root mass, and provide excellent control from root rot, pythium and pytophethoria. Use with Tarantula & Voodoo Juice. Increase root mass by up to 700% This is the only form that can be used in a reservoir with hydroponics.

Tarantula: A bacterial blend of 57 microorganisms.This rich blend contains Bacillus, Streptomycetes Actinomycetes, and Psuedomonas for massive plant growth. Forms a symbiotic relationship with root zone.

Voodoo Juice: A liquid solution consisting of five strains of microbes, one which is a nitrogen fixer. Also contains bacillus subtilis. These microbes colonize the roots, facilitating the conversion of nutrients.

Great White: Excellent product that combines very fine (weaponized) mycorrhizae, and trichoderma fungus with a wide assortment of Beneficial bacteria. Can be used in a Hydroponic Reservoir or hand watered with Soil / Coco.

Roots Excelerator: This is the strongest all around product we have at preventing and combating Root Disease. It will blow roots WAY OUT within 3-5 days and keep them Super Healthy throughout the cycle.

Gleeo – a blend of root stimulating fungi that “coats” the root system. This blend facilitates nutrient uptake while simultaneously proving protection from many groups of root pathogens. The active compounds are known as Gliotoxins. The Gliotoxins have superior resistance to root decay in a variety of plants.

SCD Efficient Microbes (EM)™ The microorganisms in EM produce bioactive substances, vitamins, hormones, enzymes, amino acids, and antibiotics, which enrich and detoxify the soil. the organisms and processes within the EM culture enhance plant growth and produce high yielding crops, which are drought, frost, pest & disease resistant.

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Some growers rely on sterile growing environments, strong disinfectants and products that sterilize the reservoir.

Zone: Comprised of monochloramine and essential oils. This is the strongest sterilizing agent that we sell. It is easy to use and works well at combating disease. Can be used at 2-3x strength to fight an infection.

SM-90: A root disease inhibitor and effective preventative treatment for pathogens including fusarium, pythium, rhizoctonia, phytopthera, etc. Wards off root infestation as it encourages new root growth.

Hydrogen Peroxide: Creates ozone in water, killing bacteria and adding oxygen to the system. Elevated levels of oxygen in water have proven to dramatically increase the speed of plant growth.

UV - Filter: Use of a UV filter can greatly help win the battle against pathogens. As long as the nutrient solution is clear when it runs across the filter, (i.e. no organics,) all microorganism DNA will be torn apart.

PLEASE NOTE!! Both SM-90, Zone and hydrogen peroxide offer protection and benefits. But they do not work well with organic additives in the reservoir. We DO NOT recommend using them with Liquid Karma, SuperThrive or anything similar. Keeping your reservoir totally sterile can work very well, but once you get a population of icky badness it can keep coming back again and again. Some pathogens such as pythium are almost impossible to get rid of completely. More and more innovative growers are moving toward a more holistic approach of using good microbes and beneficial enzymes in the reservoir.

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"Root rot" is a generic name for several common opportunistic waterborne diseases that can seriously affect indoor and outdoor crops year round. "Pythium" is the name of one of these diseases and is also used as a generic term for several different root rot and stem rot fungus species (including pythium, verticillium, phytophthora, and fusarium). The term “damping-off” is also often used and usually applies to disease in seeds, seedlings and clones. Whatever you call them, these diseases attack the roots of a plant and can rapidly infect crops in all stages. Damage includes reduced yields and crop failure. Pythium is particularly damaging in recirculating hydroponic systems as they provide ideal conditions for rapid growth and spread of infectious spores; a single infected plant can breed and send spores to all the plants.

The best thing is to prevent root rot from ever taking hold in the first place. It is an opportunistic disease which means that it is looking for sick, injured or weakened plants. Pythium is almost impossible to 100% eradicate from an infected system; this would involve starting completely over. It is probably present even if undetetected... just waiting for its chance to get a foothold. This can be why a previously successful grower has suddenly started experiencing problems.

"The best preventative measure against a pythium attack is a healthy, rapidly growing plant as this is an opportunist pathogen and will enter at the site of tissue injury or if the plants are overly succulent, weakened, or stressed for some reason. Often root damage during the seedling stage as plants are introduced to the hydroponic system is a danger time for pythium infection. Pythium is of greatest threat during the seed germination and seedling development stage when plants are most vulnerable to attack, and adequate control and elimination of the pathogen during this stage is the best preventative measure in hydroponic systems. Strong healthy plants will develop resistance to pythium attack during the seedling stage and this will prevent problems at a later stage of growth."

-- Dr. Lynette Morgan, Growing Edge Magazine
'Nutrient Temperature, Oxygen and Pythium in Hydroponics
' l

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How to Avoid a bad case of Root Rot
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These are not the beneficial bacteria and fungi that we have already spoken about. These bacteria cause cloudy reservoirs, slimy buildup, weird reservoir fuzz, gelatinous growths, and wild pH fluctuations. These are the reservoir monsters.

When these bad microbes are present at high populations and are happily feeding on organic matter, they use up just about all the oxygen in the nutrient solution, suffocating the plants. They also release toxic substances as a byproduct of their life cycle, suppressing the good microbes at the root zone and causing problems with nutrient uptake and plant growth.

Bacterial slime and cloudy reservoirs
Bacteria can make the water cloudy, but tend to produce more of a slime or jellylike smelly mass in the system. If you have it, you will notice slimy reservoir walls and perhaps an oily slick on the water. Another symptom can be a foamy buildup in the reservoir. If left to their own devices, these bacterial growths will smother the roots, depriving them of oxygen. Some species of anaerobic bacteria thrive in an environment deprived of oxygen and can produce chemical metabolites, such as alcohols, aldehydes, phenols and ethylene, that are toxic to plant roots and to other microorganisms. A dead giveaway indicating that you have a Bacterial infection rather than a Funagal one is when your pH is rising abnormally high - say from 5.8 to 7.8 in one night. (A fungal infection usually will drop the pH from 5.8 to 4.0 in the same one night period.)

Other symptoms of bacterial infections can be fuzzy, cottonlike growths, or the growth of fur. Just in case you are wondering, that white fuzzy growth you see at the tip of your roots is desirable. That is not bacteria; that is the good stuff.  You should see tiny fine white hairs at the roots.

Another kind of Bacterial nasty that people get primarily in DWC (Deep Water Culture Systems) is a "Red Slime'. This particular enemy is best combated by lowering reservoir temps to 65 degrees, and using Zone at 2x's normal strength of 1 TableSpoon for every 2.5 Gallons and running for 3-4 days than bring back to normal dosage of 1 TeaSpoon for every 2.5 Gallons for another 3-4 days or for the rest of the grow period. We would prefer switching to Roots Excellurator after the second round of Zone; this will grow new roots back and keep the pathogen at bay.

All of these nasties require organic matter to feed on. They may be there as the result of a buildup of dead roots and leaves in the root zone, but usually they are the result of adding an organic product to the reservoir. If the conditions are just right, the bacteria will begin to thrive.

One option is to use no organic additives at all and to rely strictly on chemical nutrients based on fertilizer salts. We think a better choice is to continue using organic material, but also using the enzymatic additive - Hygrozyme - We are not exactly sure what is in hygrozyme that works REALLY well at killing off Bacteria. It is not a digestive enzyme. . .But still keeps this pathogenic Bacteria at bay. Other enzymes (such as Cannazym or Sensizym) don't work well against bacteria. If you are not going to use beneficial microbes or enzyme solutions and you want to treat a Bacteria infection then we suggest Dutch Master's Zone. Also, if you would like to use additives such as bat guano, compost or fish-based products, you might consider run-to-waste instead of a recirculating system.

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You will want to completely clean out your system. If possible, you should remove each plant, rinse it off, perhaps even dip it in a solution of DutchMaster's Zone. You should trim off any dead roots. Then clean your entire system using a strong bleach solution. We suggest soaking all equipment in bleach for a few hours. You will definitely want to soak your pump and any tubing in bleach. Make sure you rinse everything very well before putting the plants back in. We then suggest running your system with Zone until your infection has subsided and you see new roots forming. At this point we recommend switching out Zone for Roots Excellurator and running that until you harvest. Please note that there are some problems that are just too bad and are unfixable. If this is the case, you will want to just start over and run either Zone or Roots Excellurator from the beginning. It is much easier to prevent the problem in the first place that it is to fix it. (Roots Excellurator is much better at blowing your roots out and creating micro-hairs.)

If your plants are damaged, you might want to run the nutrient solution at a lower concentration than usual. We highly recommend using an enzymatic additive such as Cannazym or Hygrozyme. You should also run a stress relief additive like Organic B. We always suggest using Liquid Karma, but if your problem is really bad, you might want to lay off the organics for awhile.

When your roots are really hurting, you may want to foliar feed your plants with nutrient at 1/2 concentration and a wetting agent like Wet Betty. If you haven't already, you should read the section above about inoculating your system with good microbes.

Keep an eye on your reservoir. Be prepared to clean it out regularly, as soon as any sign of infections (cloudy water or wild pH fluctuations) occur.

Remember IT IS MUCH EASIER TO PREVENT a pathogenic attack than it is to deal with it once it has occurred!

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