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Protein Power: What This Essential Nutrient Can Do For Your Indoor Crops
You probably know how important protein is for people, but it is just as critical for plants to stay healthy and vigorous.
Athletes and others who exercise hard often amp up their protein intake with supplements. You can do the same for your plants. Here's why it's worth doing and the details you need to get the maximum benefits.
What Protein Provides to Your Indoor Garden
Let's start with a few basics about what protein is, so you can understand how it works for your plants. Proteins are complex molecules that are composed of up to 20 different amino acids. You don't need to memorize these names, but just so you recognize them when you see them, the amino acids are alanine, arginine, aspartate, asparagine, cysteine, glutamate, glutamine, glycine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, proline, serine, threonine, tryptophan, tyrosine, and valine.
The amino acids are found in varying combinations in all living things. To make a protein molecule, the amino acids form into chains that include all or some of each type. The specific sequence of the types of amino acids in the chain determines the particular function of the protein it forms.
For instance, some proteins are the structural components of cells – that is, the cell's walls. Other proteins act as transport molecules, carrying a variety of nutrients to where they can be used. Certain types of protein function as enzymes that trigger metabolic reactions within cells, while others provide storage for sugars and other nutrients.
Plants synthesize proteins from the amino acids found in nitrogen fertilizer, as well as in the carbon and oxygen absorbed from air, and hydrogen from water.
Why is Protein Needed by Plants?
So exactly how does protein work to help plants? These are a few of the functions that are especially critical for indoor gardens.
- Calcium uptake: Amino acids stimulate root cells to open up the channels through which calcium can be absorbed. Calcium is essential for building sturdy cell walls and healthy root systems. It also transports other nutrients from the roots to the leaves and flowers. An abundant supply of calcium accelerates cell division and expansion, which leads to rapid growth of stems, leaves, flowers, and more.
- Scale reduction. Calcium in nutrient solution often reacts with phosphates and sulfates to create “lime scale," the white deposits that clog up pumps and irrigation lines in hydroponic garden systems. Lime scale also blocks plants from taking up calcium. Amino acids prevent scale by drawing the calcium out of the solution and delivering to where the plant can use it.
- Stress protection. Strong cell walls help protect plants from stress, whether from temperatures that are not ideal or pest infestations. Moreover, plants growing in less than optimal conditions decrease, or even stop, amino acid production. If the amino acid levels are too low, plants may even cannibalize the proteins used to protect cell walls to obtain the essential amino acids it needs for hormone production. This depletes the supply needed for continued growth and nutrient absorption.
- Pollen production. Amino acids, particularly lysine, are central to the production of plant pollen. The more lysine available to the plant increases the amount and the potency of the pollen that flower buds make.
- Light and dark sensitivity: One of the keys to growing plants that bear fruit or flower buds indoors is managing the light and dark cycle, known as "photoperiod," to stimulate the start of the reproductive process (blooming) when plants reach maturity. This happens naturally outdoors as the days grow shorter. Indoors, the grower controls how much light plants get each day. Just as important is a robust supply of protein to activate the plants' response to the changing balance of light and dark.
When Do Indoor Plants Need Protein?
Plants can synthesize a steady supply of proteins from the nitrogen and other minerals in fertilizers, but at two critical junctures in plants' growth the demand for amino acids increases dramatically. During these periods, amino acid supplements ensure that all of the plant's energy can be directed to growth and flowering rather than diverting some of it to making proteins.
- Transition to bloom: The most energy-intensive time of a plant's life comes when it shifts from producing leaves and chlorophyll (the green cells that turn light into food) to forming buds and flowers. When you adjust the photoperiod to start the bloom cycle, increasing the availability of amino acids ensures that your plants have the proteins they need to make the enzymes that trigger the changes.
- Blooming or ripening: To sustain flowering and the gradual maturation of the buds or fruit, plants burn up nutrients. Amino acids form the proteins that transport essential minerals from the roots right to where they're needed – the terminal points where flowers and fruit grow.
How Do You Supply Indoor Plants with Protein?
Whether you are growing your plants in soil or in a hydroponic set-up, you can give them an amino acid supplement, such as TruAmino+, by mixing the granules directly into your nutrient solution. Be sure to follow the package instructions for exact dilution rates – overdosing with any nutrient can cause stress for the plants and derail its growth. And use the diluted nutrients right away, discarding any that's leftover. Look for a natural supplement, which stimulates beneficial microbes that help plants absorb the nutrients you provide.
How is Your Indoor Garden Doing?
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