Manage your Plants for Stress
To understand plants, one must recognize that plants undergo stress from external factors. Plants are capable of experiencing stress and surviving because they evolved to overcome those pressures. However, their evolution has drawbacks. Plants that have to adapt to external factors will have to prioritize survival rather than growth. In effect, inevitable consequences such as reduced crop quality and yield can occur. Therefore, the importance of understanding plant stress will allow farmers and consultants to grow plants optimally.
Plants are living things, and they resemble the human body. When humans become ill, their body responds to the sickness through an auto-immune response. Without this response, humans would quickly die. Plants can also respond similarly. Plants undergo an illness (either physiologically or biochemically), delaying their growth to respond to the issue.
Overall, plants are like humans in that they strive for homeostasis, and they use evolutionary techniques to get back to the setpoint. When external factors “stress” crops, the crops immediately do their best to reach homeostasis. Unlike humans’ plants have a less complex auto-immune response to stress, and they are at the mercy of their environment.
Although humans can nourish and quench themselves whenever they want, the same cannot be for plants. Plants will undergo continual stress (from being placed into the ground and into maturity).
What causes plant stress?
Plant stress plays a significant role in the management plan of agronomists and farmers. As farming and agricultural studies have progressed, so have the number of studied stressors. That is to say that the list of plant stressors can be exhaustive, but once mastered, it can be beneficial to the success of a farm.
Biotic Plant Stress: The stress caused by living external factors such as animals, humans, bacteria, other plants (weeds), etc. These stressors play a direct role in diminishing nutrient uptake and affect the harvest season.
Abiotic Plant Stress: The stress caused by non-living external factors such as those in a specific environment. That environment can host two stressors: physical and chemical stress.
Physical Plant Stress: The stress imposed by the physical environment. Such as drought (water stress), flood (waterlogging), salinity (toxicity), temperatures, winds, and soil compaction.
Chemical Plant Stress: The stress imposed by the chemical state of the physical environment, such as air pollution, pesticides, soil pH, and water.
Salt Stress: Plants grow when exposed to a well-balanced mix of dirt and fertilizer. However, proximity to the beach or improperly managed irrigation water systems could lead to high concentrations of sodium in the soil. High concentrations of salts will leave plants at a disadvantage of growth. In addition, sodium makes it increasingly difficult to take up essential minerals such as Potassium and Calcium. Reason being that salt prevents the proper mechanism of nutrient mobility through water transport.
Low temperature: Plants grow in their respective temperature ranges. If the temperature drops drastically, plants stop growing because the plant’s cellular function and nutrient uptake slows down. If plants aren’t getting sufficient nutrients, they slowly become malnourished and die.
Some plants have been able to acclimate, but they don’t produce the most significant yield.
High Temperature: Global warming is a hot topic, and for a good reason. As the world temperature is rising, it is becoming more challenging to manage the productivity of crops. As temperatures rise, plants yield less due to reduced food reserves and water loss.
Water Stress: Water stress can come about in two ways. One of which is drought and the other waterlogging. When there is a drought, the soil does not have enough moisture to move nutrients from the roots to the leaves. Roots are an essential asset to plants because they influence development. Therefore, plants stop growing vertically and instead develop their roots to take up nutrients. On the other hand, when there is too much water, otherwise known as waterlogging, it is hard to take up oxygen.
Oxidative Stress: All living things undergo chemical interactions with oxygen. Especially plants! Oxidative stress is considered both an abiotic and biotic stressor. This stress comes about from the overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS). An increase of free radicals (unpaired electrons, i.e., highly reactive) mixed with plants can damage fundamental particles that contribute to growth.
Nitrogen: An excess of Nitrogen in modern farming can be a double-edged sword. Nitrogen can help increase yield, but too much of the compound denaturalizes the soil (increasing calcium demand). In effect, it is disturbing the plant to the point that it rots its enclosed seeds. A quick solution to an excess of Nitrogen is adding Calcium or Boron to the roots and branches.
Light Scarcity and Surplus: One of the primary parts of plant growth is water, light, and soil. When there is a lack of light, plants cannot undergo photosynthesis and therefore cannot grow. Plants will do their best to lengthen their stems and branches to reach sunlight to grow. When there is an excess of light, that can develop into oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to a lot of free radicals that can damage the plant’s growth.
Infection by Microbes and Insects: Microbes and insects can feed on a plant’s leaves and stems. The feeding is dangerous because they eat essential parts contributing to plant growth (i.e., thrips, aphids, etc.). In effect, causing nutritional and physiological imbalances.
Nutritional Soil Scarcity and Surplus: Nutritional scarcity in the soil is harmful to the plant because of disparaged growth. Plants prioritize their internal structure as opposed to their branches when there is a lack of nutrition. Therefore, plants begin to wilt from the outside when they don’t have nutritious soil. Unironically, an excess of healthy soil is just as bad. Usually, when it is abundant, there is also an ample amount of Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Both of these compounds are beneficial in normal quantities, but an excess impairs growth.
Additionally, a rich amount of healthy soil could lead to an increase in heavy metals.
Mechanical Stress: The stress of tools or agricultural machinery inflicts wounds in plants. These wounds can lead to infection and subsequently to wilting. We see some of the mechanical stress in farms through standard transplanting, pruning, and plowing.
Plant Stress Relief Management and Solutions
With time, farmers and agronomists have been able to study plants and their evolutionary resistance. Those studies have found that plants have three evolutionary behaviors to adapt to physiological and chemical changes.
Plants can adapt to their environment through permanent resistance, temporary resistance, or avoid the stress altogether.
If crops have not adapted to stressful environments, there are still solutions to promote plant development.
Promoting optimal conditions through silicon: Silicon has been a recent study on relieving stress because roots readily absorb it. Its main functions are to increase immune response and increase yield.
Biofertilizers or Biostimulants: These products serve to increase the resistance of crops against stress and at the same time help them in their recovery. Microorganisms help to stimulate natural processes, providing the plant with resistance against any pressure.
Agronomic Management: The first line of defense against abiotic or biotic stress is through the agronomic plan farmers and their agronomic consultants have put in place. Having a plan in place can save farms from food insecurity and economic turmoil.