By Lauren Lewis
When you look at the plants in your garden you’re actually only seeing half of the garden’s total mass; in most species a full HALF of the plant mass exists underground in the roots. Deep, healthy root systems offer so many benefits to the plant and its surroundings. One of those benefits is soil carbon sequestration, whereby atmospheric carbon is brought deep into the soil for long term storage by (1) photosynthesis in the leaves followed by (2) movement of the resulting sugars to the roots. In our gardens we favor perennial plants over annuals for tons of reasons, but one is that perennials’ deeper root systems do much more to lock carbon away in the soil.
Another reason is that long-lived roots and the environment they create allow for plant communication. Trees can actually use their huge root systems to support and communicate with their neighbors, somewhat compensating for their inability to move or vocalize. Tree roots are colonized by mycorrhizal fungi, which create a physical connection between distinct trees via the fungi’s intricate web structure. Molecules can make their way out from a tree’s roots, through the fungal network, and into another tree’s roots, sending chemical assistance or signals or both. We highly recommend this lovely video lesson if you want to learn more about this fascinating process!