Do you need to break up roots when planting?

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Should I loosen roots before planting?

There’s no denying roots are the most essential organ of plants. They’re vital to the delivery of water and nutrients that aid in the longevity of your plants. You might wonder whether loosening the roots is necessary to the health of your plant.

Should roots be loosened before planting? The short answer to that question is yes, loosening the roots is recommended when transferring a plant. 

Loosening (otherwise known as teasing or tickling) the roots of a plant is beneficial because it encourages root growth when a plant is transferred into a new location.

Without loosening, the root system of a plant can risk becoming pot-bound. The roots will twist and tie around each other, which leaves unbearable stress on your plant. This results in stunted plant growth and sometimes death.

In this article, I’ll discuss in further detail the effects of loosening roots and pruning roots. In addition, I’ll talk about the danger of not loosening your plants’ roots and how to properly do it at home.

What Happens If You Cut the Roots off a Plant?

What Happens If You Cut the Roots off a Plant

Cutting the roots off of a plant is more commonly referred to as pruning your plant’s roots. Pruning the roots of a plant is more common than the average plant owner may think. There are many benefits to clipping the roots of a plant if done correctly.

The primary purpose of cutting the roots off a plant is to essentially retain the plant’s size. When you clip the roots, you’re stunting the growth of a plant, leaving it to stay at its current size.

A small plant will always be able to stay in its small pot with root cutting. Allowing the plant’s roots to grow naturally runs the risk of being root bound, leading to inevitable death.

Sometimes roots need to be cut off to stop the spread of root-based diseases, such as root rot. When a plant is showing signs of rotting roots, it is necessary for the gardener to clip off any roots that appear brown, rotted, and soft to the touch.

Let’s take a look at some of the primary benefits of pruning roots:

  1. Pruning the roots can help with loosening the root ball of a plant, therefore giving the root system more movement to branch out into the soil.

  2. Pruning roots can help with preventing future root problems later in the plant’s life, such as circling and knotting if the plant is housed in a container.

However, some horticulturists argue against cutting the roots because they feel that clipping the roots can create an artificial growth pattern and disrupts the plant’s natural growth in the roots.  

Regardless, the evidence in favor of pruning roots to control growth and prevent root-binding is overwhelmingly positive. When performed with caution, pruning roots is a normal and beneficial part of growing plants.

Will Loosening Roots Dry Out the Plant?

It is natural for a gardener to worry that altering the root system by teasing the roots can cause adverse effects, such as dry roots.

One of the most important parts of plant health is ensuring that the roots are adequately moist at all times. Yes, with improper teasing, gardeners can inadvertently cause the root system to dry out.

However, simple steps can be taken to ensure that loosening the roots goes smoothly.

Taking the extra minute to thoroughly water the roots before any loosening and making sure to use sharp, high-quality tools will make a huge difference when teasing roots.

These steps sound mundane but can mean life or death for your plant.

What If You Don’t Loosen Roots Before Planting?

As previously mentioned, plants with roots that have not been loosened run a serious risk of becoming pot bound and ultimately die.

When a plant is pot bound, the roots of a plant start to grow in a circular pattern that mimics the shape of the container they’re housed in. Naturally, roots grow down and out.

However, when there’s no more room for them to stretch, the roots try to find any room that they can to grow. If left untreated, the root system becomes densely entangled, leaving little to no room for any progressive growth.

Being pot-bound is extremely deadly to plants. Pot-bound plants that are left to suffer in their ill-fitting container slowly run out of soil and nutrients as the densely packed root system pushes soil out.

If you notice a plant had begun to turn yellow and wilting, it would be a good idea to check out its root ball and see if it needs a container update.

How to Loosen Root-Bound Plants (The Right Way)

How to Loosen Root-Bound Plants (The Right Way)

So we’ve gone over a lot of information regarding root-bound plants and how to properly identify whether you have one in your home or not.

Taking the proper measurements to ensure loosening the roots of your plant is crucial, as recklessly handling your plant’s root system can be deadly to them.

First, gather what you need to loosen your plant’s roots and replant them. It is important to have a full watering can to pre-soak the roots before you tease them. As we’ve previously stated, moistened roots are necessary to a healthy plant and soaking them prevents the roots from drying out during the process.

In addition, make sure the gardening tools you’re using are cleaned and sharpened. Dirty tools might contain traces of bacteria that you don’t want to come in contact with your roots out of risk of infecting your plant with an incurable root infection.

These tools should also be properly sharp. A part of loosening roots involves some clipping as well. Sharp tools will ensure a swift cut is made to sever any unneeded roots, whereas dull tools might snag and tear, causing severe damage.

The first step to loosening the soil is to release the roots from the circular pattern they’ve created.

On the bottom of the root ball, take your knife and cut an “X” into the bottom. Follow that cut with four cuts going up from the sides of the root ball. This cutting motion should free up most of the roots from the circular web.

Following the initial cuts, dip the root ball into water. The water not only helps separate the dirt from the roots, but it also hydrates and softens the roots. You’ll have a clearer vision as well as a more malleable root system.

After soaking the roots, next is to untangle the system. You’ll want to be very gentle in this stage, this is the make or break in teasing roots.

Again, root systems naturally branch down and outwards. The goal of untangling is to restore this root system as close to its natural formation as possible. It might not be perfect, but even a small amount will go a long way.

Inspect the root ball for any signs of rotting. Healthy roots are light in color and are firm to the touch. Rotting roots are darker in color (usually brown but sometimes black in extreme cases) and are soft and mushy to the touch. If you see signs of rot, clip those roots off.

When you have a result you’re satisfied with, you can re-pot your plant into a new home. It’s always recommended to use fresh soil in your pot when transplanting.

After loosening the root system, the plant will have a healthier growth pattern and an extended life. In addition, it will have an easier time acclimating to the new soil and new planter with loosened roots.

Wrap up

The root is the most important part of a plant’s anatomy; without the roots, the plant ceases to exist. Ensuring your plant’s root health is up to date is one of the most important ways you can take care of your plant.

The roots of a plant must be loosened before planting, it will allow the plant’s root system to grow properly, therefore extending the life of your plants.

If you suspect your plant is root bound, I urge you to heed the advice in this article and check on your plant. You could be saving its life by doing so.