Categories: Gardening 101

Saving root-bound plants

Container gardening is a wonderful way to accent your home or yard. It also affords people with little to no yard some creativity in cultivating their own green spaces. However, planting in a container garden isn’t something that you only do once. If left in a pot for too long, a plant can become root-bound and begin to suffocate.

What does it mean if a plant is root-bound?
When a plant becomes root-bound it has simply exceeded the size of its container. The first sign that you have a root-bound plant is if it stops retaining water. The water shouldn’t immediately drain out the bottom; if this happens, you likely have more root than soil left in the container garden. Roots growing out of the drainage holes are another indication that your plant has become root-bound.

Saving a root-bound plant
If you suspect that your plant is root-bound, remove it from its container to see how bad the situation is. Depending on how badly root-bound the plant has become, you may have a difficult time doing this. First water the plant to soften up its roots and the remainder of the soil, then begin to gently ease the plant out of its container. If the plant does not come easily, use a thin sturdy object, such as a knife, to cut as close to the container walls as you can.

Once you remove the plant from the container garden, you have three options for salvaging the plant. You can either replant it in a bigger container, prune the roots and replant in the same container, or split the plant and replant it in two separate containers. Depending on how badly the roots are bound, you may be able simply to work them free of each other with your hands before repotting them  in a larger container.

Pruning the roots
To prune the roots of a root-bound plant, take a pair of scissors or shears and carefully trim the bottom third of the roots. Then gently work the roots free of each other with your hands and shake any of the remaining soil from them. Trim off any roots that appear to be rotting. After you have pruned and loosened the roots, you can either repot the plant in a larger container to allow it to grow more, or place it back into the same one to keep it the same size as it was before. Root pruning is especially important for trees that are grown as part of container gardens.