There are a range of direct and indirect factors that can affect if plants grow, how they grow, and whether they grow effectively.
These factors tend to be either biotic (living) or abiotic (non living), and in this guide, we outline the range of these factors.
Towards the bottom of this guide, we’ve also outlined some tips for understanding how to pick suitable plants to grow in different geographic locations and conditions.
This guide is complementary to our more general guide on how to start growing different types of plants.
Summary – Factors That Affect The Growth Of Plants
Main Factors That Affect Plant Growth
There might be 5 main factors that directly affect plant growth (both positively, and negatively)
Those 5 main factors are – Light (sunlight), temperature, water, humidity and nutrients.
But, these are just the main factors, and in reality there are more direct and indirect factors to consider.
These factors can be divided into biotic and abiotic factors.
Biotic Factors That Affect Plant Growth
Biotic factors are living things like plants, animals and fungi.
– The plants themselves (there are different types of plant life, each with different traits, and also growing requirements)
– Animals that affect the plants, soil, water etc
– Secondary plant life that affects the soil and the primary plant (like other types of plants, trees, pest plant species etc.)
– Soil micro-organisms and microbes (bacteria, fungi etc.)
Abiotic Factors That Affect Plant Growth
Abiotic factors include the non-living factors that affect living organisms (like plants) and ecosystems (like soil ecosystems).
– The Climate (& Weather)
Factors like average rainfall, average temperature range (but, also maximum and minimum temperature), and wind patterns
– Different Soil Variables
Such as the soil type, natural soil fertility, and other soil variables and soil conditions (like soil pH, and soil health, and soil quality)
– Local Geographic Factors
Such as landscape and topography (how flat the land is for example)
– Other Local Environmental Factors & Conditions
Such as sunlight, temperature, water cycle, humidity, and the naturally available level of nutrients (in organic matter for example)
And, the cycle and length of the seasons (summer, autumn, winter, spring)
– Human Activities, Inputs, Factors & Growing Practices/Processes
How humans choose to grow the plant life, or modify the conditions the plant life grows in (such as amending soil or growing in a polytunnel or greenhouse for example)
Examples include …
Adding water, adding fertilizer, adding pesticides and herbicides, and other inputs
Mixing in new soil with the existing soil, and other efforts to improve soil fertility and overall soil quality
The different farming practices and growing practices that are used (i.e. how the plants are grown and maintained, and with what methods)
More modern examples now include technology like whether the plant life is genetically modified or not
Biotic Factors That Affect How Plants Grow
– The Plants Themselves
All plants are have different in terms of the conditions they grow best in (climate, soil conditions, etc), and their overall growing requirements (inputs, growing practices, etc).
Different plants might …
1. Need different climates and environmental conditions
For example, some plants might be able to grow in colder climates and the shade without much sunlight), whilst others might need warmer climates and need more direct sunlight.
2. Need different types of soil (with different particle traits)
For example, root vegetables might need softer/looser soil that allows them to establish a root structure compared to other types of plants
3. Need different soil pH levels
Many plants might grow well in neutral range pH soil of say 5.5 to 7 pH.
But, some plants may prefer a slightly acidic soil, or a slightly alkaline soil.
4. Need different amounts of water supply
For example, cotton is a water hungry crop that needs much more water than some other types plants, like for example plants that can grow in the desert (like for example the Gao tree that grows in Niger)
5. Have different growing season lengths, and grow in different seasons
For example, wheat has a 90 day growing season.
Some plants may also grow better in Fall/Autumn compared to Spring.
6. Live longer than others
Some plants are perennials (live longer than 2 years), and others might be annuals or biennials
An annual for example usually needs to be replanted and and re-sowed yearly, whereas a perennial might have a good yield for 3 to 5 years after being planted. One potential benefit of this may be that the soil doesn’t have to be disturbed or tilled as often
There can be many other factors and considerations specific to each plant type though, so, it’s useful to learn the essential information prior to growing.
We’ve listed a range of other factors in the second half of this guide.
Animals can help or hinder how the plant grows.
Wild animals or destructive animals might walk on and damage the soil, or walk on or eat the plant directly.
Some wild animals on the other hand like bees are beneficial to pollinating flowers and helping with growth, and worms can help with breaking up organic matter in the soil.
– Secondary Plant Life
Same thing with secondary plant life – they can help or hinder how plants grow.
Weeds and pest plant species may restrict the plant you are trying to grow.
A plant like hemp can constrict the growth of other plants out in the wild.
But, trees and other plants can actually add nutrients to the soil and make it more fertile.
Adding secondary plant life can also contribute to better biodiversity.
Companion plants are plants that grow well with each other.
Incompatible plants don’t grow well together.
– Soil Microbes
Beneficial soil microbes (beneficial bacteria and fungi) help with soil fertility and health, and also breaking down organic matter into soil nutrients.
Microbes can die off if the soil health declines, or if chemicals like pesticides are used that kill off the beneficial soil microbes.
Beneficial soil microbes tend to thrive in healthy soil with plenty of organic matter.
Abiotic Factors That Affect How Plants Grow
– Climate (& Weather)
Climate usually involves average rainfall, average temperature range, what the maximum and minimum temperatures are in the hottest and coldest months, and wind patterns.
Rainfall affects the water supply to the soil and plant, temperature affects many factors (the expansion and constriction of soil being one of them), and wind patterns are important for things like wind soil erosion.
Different plants grow better in different climates regions and types, and can handle different daily weather patterns.
Each State or region of a country is going to have different local climates and belong to a different growing regions.
To research climates and growing zones:
The USDA produces a plant hardiness zone map that takes into account average lowest temperature in a location (they have zones 1 through to 12).
Australia does something similar (zones 1 through 7).
You can view each here:
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (planthardiness.ars.usda.gov)
Plant Hardiness Zones For Australia (anbg.gov.au)
The limitation to plant hardiness zones is that they usually only take into account average lowest temperature, and this isn’t the only factor that impacts plant growth (there can be other climatic and non climatic factors)
There’s also sites like Gardenia.net can make suggestions on the type of plant life that grows in a region based on different criteria, including climate as one of them.
For the US and Australia:
United States Plant Hardiness Zones (gardenia.net)
Plant Combinations In Australia By Different Criteria, Including Climate Zones (gardenia.net)
Other options to research climates and growing zones are:
Visit your local gardening supply shop, or nursery
The people that work here are usually knowledgeable or experienced in the local climate and can help you out with information on what might have worked for them
Do a search engine search
For ‘plants that grow in [insert your city]’, or [insert your city] fruit and vegetable planting calendar’.
You should get suggestions for different plant life that grows in your area and the seasons to plant them in
– The Soil
There’s different soil factors to take into considerations. Some of those are:
Soil Fertility (includes factors like nutrient supply in the soil, pH of the soil, moisture and water content in the soil, and other direct and external fertility factors). Soil fertility can also be improved beyond it’s level of natural fertility with various changes
The aspects of the soil above impact the soil productivity and yield.
– Geographic Location
Land, air and water conditions and factors vary worldwide, but also in different regions within a country.
Topography (how sloped or flat the land is), altitude, and natural geological material (parent material and natural rockscapes) are some of the factors that vary between geographic locations.
For example, growing in arid parts of Australia is going to be different to the more tropical parts, and growing in each state in the US means different climates and different state representative soils you are dealing with.
If we take a location like Niger – Gao trees can grow well there in some parts because they suit local conditions.
So, local conditions and factors play a big part.
– Other Local Environmental Factors & Conditions
Level of local wind and water erosion (and levels of other land degradation issues)
Levels of local pests that might damage the plant
Levels of natural sunlight (how much and how often)
Levels of natural organic matter (some places have more natural organic matter available to break down into nutrients than others)
Length and cycles of seasons – summer, autumn, winter, spring
+ other factors
– Human Activities, Inputs, Factors & Growing Processes/Methods
Essentially how humans decide to grow the plants, and with what growing processes and methods.
It includes factors such as:
The production system used (mass scale cropping vs backyard vegetable patch)
Resources and inputs used (synthetic and organic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, water, etc)
Technology used (automatic sprinkler and irrigation systems)
How the soil is managed (how often it’s tilled, whether new soil is mixed in, etc)
Whether enclosed environments like greenhouses, polytunnels, biodomes, etc. are used
Whether genetically modified or engineered plants are used
+ other factors
With large scale commercial and industrial plant growth, there’s many human activities like irrigation, crop rotation, tilling, harvesting and more that can impact plant growth.
How To Decide/Know What Plant To Grow
In different geographic areas, there will be a different set of soil conditions, climatic conditions, as well as other local factors and conditions to consider.
Different plants also have different soil conditions (soil type, soil pH, etc), climate conditions (average temperature, rainfall, etc), and growing requirements that they either need to grow, or grow best in.
Even different varieties within one type of plant (such as different varieties of tomatoes for example), will have different conditions they grow best under, and different growing requirements.
With this in mind, it’s important to match up the type of plant being grown, with the available conditions and growing factors.
To do that, consider the following:
Versatile Plants vs Plants With Specific Growing Requirements
Some plants are very versatile and hardy … they can grow in a range of conditions (a range of climates, soil types and soil pH ranges.), and/or they have very few specific or overall requirements in order to be able to grow effectively.
Some plants on the other hand are very limited … they need specific conditions to grow, and/or they have specific requirements (or more intensive requirements, such as requiring a lot more water) in order to be able to grow effectively, or grow at all.
Options For Picking A Plant To Grow In A Specific Geographic Area
There’s usually three main options when picking a plant to grow in an individual geographic area:
1. Pick a versatile plant that grows in all conditions
2. Pick a plant to match the existing/available soil (both the soil type, and the soil pH), climate and conditions in the local area
3. Change or improve factors like the soil as best as possible from their existing condition, and pick a plant based on these changes and improvements. Some factors like climate and other local conditions may not be able to be controlled though (unless growing in a polytunnel, greenhouse or some other type of controlled and insulated environment)
How To Research A Plant For A Specific Geographic Area
To pick a plant that grows well in the local soil and area:
A simple search engine search to find this out might be ‘what to grow in [insert city name]’, or ‘[insert city name] gardening guide’.
It should come up with the native plant life and other plant life that can be planted commonly in that local area, and the seasons in which they grow in.
It can be easier to match the plant to the conditions than to try to change the soil for example.
And make sure to grow it per it’s requirements (such as growing it in the right season, and give it the right amount of nutrients and water and other inputs)
Other things you might do are look at what the people around you are successfully growing in their gardens, or, ask the local gardening shop (or someone with knowledge) what tends to grow well in the area.
How To Research The Conditions & Requirements A Specific Type Of Plant Needs To Grow
Some people want to grow a specific type of plant, and to do that, they will need to research the specific growing requirements of that plant.
It’s also possible to pick a type of plant, like a tomato for example, and find out what conditions and requirements they have to grow.
An online search can be a good place to start. For example, if researching tomatoes, a person might try online searches like:
types of tomatoes
how to grow tomatoes
what do tomatoes need to grow
temperature/climate tomatoes need to grow
soil pH for tomatoes
soil type for tomatoes
when to plant tomatoes (what season)
how much water tomato plants need
root depth of tomato plants
how many times tomatoes produce a year
how fast do tomatoes grow
do I plant tomato seeds or transplants
and so on …
Where To Get Information On Plant Requirements Other Than Search Engines
Other than search engines, local gardening nurseries are an option for advice (ask someone with experience about what is required for that type of plant to grow.)
Another option is to check out a site like Gardenia.net that lists plant life that grows in different regions and conditions (US and Australian examples listed in the resources list).
Seedling packets can also have information on how to grow the seeds or seedlings of a particular plant.
There may also be gardening social media groups, online forums and online communities for local area growers to join. Asking questions and getting real time feedback from other gardeners on growing different types of plants can be useful.
The aim is to get a set of requirements and conditions that each particular type of plant needs to grow.
Differences In How Different Plants Grow
Note that there is a difference in the way different plant life grows and produces as well.
For example, traditional root vegetables might grow differently to a plant that is a climber/vine plant that needs lattice or support framing.
So, take this into consideration.
A Checklist Of Potential Questions To Answer When Growing Different Types Of Plants
As a summary, a basic list of potential questions someone might ask themselves when growing different types of plants is:
What type of soil the plant grows best in (loam, clay, sand, silt etc.)
What pH of soil the plant grows best in (acidic, neutral or alkaline – most plants like the neutral or slightly acidic range)
What climate (temperature) the plant needs to grow
What season the plant should be planted in
When the plant should be planted
Whether the plant can be planted as a seed, or if it needs to be planted as a seedling or transplant from a pre-growth carton or container
How long the growing season is for that plant, or how fast it grows (how many days it takes to mature)
How many times it produces per year – several times, or once
How long the plant lasts – biennials, annuals, perennials etc.
How to harvest the plant
How much water the plant needs
How deep the roots for the plant are (determines the depth of soil you need – 12 inches deep is a good depth to aim for)
How much sunlight per day the plant needs (6 hours is usually good for plants that need sunlight)
Nutrient and fertilizer requirements of the plant
What pests are common to that plant (so you know the pest control you need to implement)
What diseases might be common to the plant and how to prevent them
How the plant grows – is it a ground, bush or climbing/vine plant (these need support lattice)
What companion plants to a type of plant might be, and what non compatible plants might be
How many different varieties of a type of plant there are – for example, with broccoli, there are new varieties that can grow in warmer months (broccoli used to be a traditionally cold season crop)
An example of how to grow broccoli and the conditions it might need can be found at mnn.com
You can make a list of plant types, and run through the same set of questions for each one.
You can also read about some of the other factors that affect the general growth of plants in this guide.