Thursday, March 24, 2011

Root bound plants..what to do?

We have all done it, bought a plant brought it home and it looked like this when we pull it out of its container....
Horrible case of root bound but I have seen worse. This was a Society Garlic I bought yesterday at my local nursery. I went there only to buy one single bale of pine straw I needed to finish an area that I ran short on but being a plant lover there was no way I was going to walk out of there without at least one little ol plant! Back to the issue... so you bought this lovely plant and you pull it out and you see that mess. I actually could not get this one out of the container and had to cut the bottom off with a knife.

If you were to plant this in the ground this way the roots would stay like this and it would not be healthy for the plant and it can also stunt its growth. So if you buy a plant like this here then this is what to do. If you can, use your hand and gently try to break up the root ball with your hands. This will allow the roots to spread out and take root in the soil.If it is so compact that you can't use your hand then break out a knife and cut about an inch or so off the bottom and you can even slice the sides on a couple sides as well. Don't worry I know this sounds drastic but really you are helping the plant. It will soon grow new roots and the existing roots can now have a chance to spread out allowing the plant to get the most of the water and nutrients it needs. Here is the plant after I teased out the roots and cut some off the bottom....
Much better! I could have cut a little more off but this is just fine and now the plant will be very happy in a few weeks. Now go ahead and plant this as you normally would and water good and deep. Keep it watered regularly for  the next few weeks till established but be sure not to drown it just be sure it doesn't dry out as it is been under some stress already. Then mulch and now you have a pretty happy little plant in its new home!

When shopping for plants try to avoid root bound plants if possible. You can tell because they will have roots sticking out the bottom like this...

This one isn't so bad again I have seen worse. However the signs are there. Now there is nothing really wrong with buying plants like this, just do what I have said above and it will be fine. A lot of times you can buy some plants cheap that have been clearanced but chances are this is how you will find them. They have been sitting in those pots for awhile which is why the roots wrap around  themselves like that. It's just if you have a choice look for the healthiest plants that don't show signs of root bound. Sometimes I have bought shrubs for super deals but the roots were really super duper root bound. I had to take a shovel and chop off several inches off the bottom and really work at it to loosen the root ball. It took a little tending to till it got off on its own feet but they are happy and healthy plants today. A little fertilizer would help too.


  1. Thanks, Meghan. I usually loosen the roots a bit, but always I'm afraid to be "too rough". Your 'after' photo is a very good visual for me.

  2. Oh you cannot hurt Society Garlic no matter how rough you handle it.