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How to Handle a Rootbound Plant

The roots of some plants are totally twisted -- into knots, that is. Find out how to unravel them before placing them into the ground.

Photo: iStock

First, what is a rootbound plant? This is something you’ll likely come across when transporting potted plants into your garden. If you removed the plant from the pot and the roots are basically a solid mass in the shape of the container you just took it out of, you’ve got a roootbound situation. Here’s the problem: If you just put it in the ground as is, its roots will keep their shape and sit there for years, their growth stunted. In order for a rootbound plant to reach its full potential in the ground, its roots are gonna need some help spreading out.

The way you deal with it depends on the type of roots and how bad the clumping is. If the roots are gentle and fibrous, you might be able to just use your hands and fingers to break them up, kind of like untangling snarled hair. If the situation is dire, use a garden claw to tear apart the roots, or take a knife and slice a really shallow line down the side to break the root barrier.

Nestpert: Thomas McClain is a Minnesota landscape designer and owner of GrowWithDesign.com.

-- The Nest Editors

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