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How to Improve Root Health During Winter

As we embrace the chill of July in South Africa, our gardens might seem quiet and dormant, but beneath the surface, there is a whole lot happening. Winter is a crucial time for focusing on the health of your plant’s root systems. Strong roots are the foundation of a healthy garden, and ensuring they remain robust during the colder months will set your plants up for success come spring. This week, we delve into various practices that can help promote strong root systems, including soil care, mulching, and watering strategies. We’ll also highlight the importance of root health, techniques for maintaining healthy roots, and the signs of an unhealthy plant.

The Importance of Root Health

Roots are the lifeline of a plant, responsible for absorbing water, and nutrients, and anchoring the plant in the soil. During winter, many plants go into dormancy, a survival strategy where growth slows, and energy is conserved. This dormancy is a perfect time to focus on the root system, ensuring it gets the care it needs to thrive.

 Healthy roots are essential for:

  • Nutrient Uptake: Strong roots absorb nutrients more efficiently.
  • Water Absorption: Healthy roots help plants manage water uptake effectively.
  • Plant Stability: Robust roots provide a solid foundation, preventing plants from toppling over in strong winds or heavy rains.

Techniques for Maintaining Healthy Roots

 1. Soil Care

  • Soil Preparation: Start with good quality soil. Enrich your garden beds with compost. Compost improves soil structure, enhance nutrient content, and supports beneficial microorganisms. Click here to find out more about microbes and microorganisms, and the role they play in your soil.
  • Lawn Dressing: Applying lawn dressing can help improve the soil’s fertility and structure, providing a better-growing environment for the roots.
  • Fertilisers: Use fertilisers to replenish essential nutrients. Balanced fertilisation is crucial during winter when natural nutrient replenishment is slower.

2. Mulching

  • Mulching helps to insulate the soil, keeping root zones warmer and more stable in temperature. It also retains moisture and reduces soil erosion. Organic mulches, like straw or bark, gradually decompose, adding more nutrients to the soil.
    Apply a thick layer of mulch around your plants to protect the roots from temperature extremes.

3. Watering Strategies

  • Even in winter, roots need moisture. However, watering needs are reduced during this season. Ensure you water deeply but less frequently to encourage deep root growth.
  • With the absence of rain, investing in quality hosepipes, fittings and sprinklers is essential. Efficient watering tools help distribute water evenly and reach deeper into the soil where the roots are.
  • Ensure your hosepipe is long enough to reach all areas of your garden. You can find different sizes and fittings here.

4. Tools for Root Care

  • Maintaining root health often requires attention to the soil and plant care. Use small hand tools, loppers, pruners, saws, and axes to manage your garden. These tools help you prune dead or diseased parts, aerate the soil, and maintain the overall health of your garden plants.

Signs and Symptoms of Unhealthy Roots

Recognising the signs of unhealthy roots early can save your plants from further damage. Here are some symptoms to look out for:

Yellowing Leaves

  • What it Means: Leaves that turn yellow can indicate nutrient deficiencies or poor root health.
  • What to Do: Check soil pH and nutrient levels. Adjust fertilisation and ensure proper watering practices.


  • What it Means: Even if the soil is moist, wilting can be a sign of root rot or damage.
  • What to Do: Inspect roots for rot. Improve drainage and reduce watering frequency if necessary.

Stunted Growth

  • What it Means: If your plants are not growing as expected, it could be due to poor root health.
  • What to Do: Ensure the plant has enough space for root expansion. Check for compacted soil and repot if needed.

Root Discoloration

  • What it Means: Healthy roots are usually white or light tan. Dark, mushy, or foul-smelling roots are a sign of root rot.
  • What to Do: Trim off affected roots and repot in fresh, well-draining soil. Consider using a fungicide.

The Science Behind Plant Dormancy

During winter, many plants enter a state of dormancy. This is a survival mechanism that allows them to conserve energy and withstand harsh conditions. Dormancy is triggered by environmental cues such as shorter days and cooler temperatures. While above-ground growth slows down, roots continue to grow and develop, albeit at a slower pace. This makes winter the perfect time to focus on improving root health.

By understanding the importance of root care and implementing the right practices, you can ensure your garden remains healthy and vibrant. Visit any MakroBuilder’s Warehouse or Game to explore a wide range of products tailored to your gardening needs.

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