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How to Root Prune a Root Bound Plant

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Do you have a root-bound plant? If your plant is root bound, it's time to do something about it. Root-bound plants can't take in nutrients and water as well as they should. This means that the leaves will turn yellowish, and the plant won't grow as well as it could. You'll also find that your plant might start dropping leaves or even die if you don't do anything about this problem soon enough.

Luckily for you, we've got a solution to help you with this problem. We'll tell you everything there is to know about why most plants get root-bound and what causes them not to spread their roots properly anymore. And then we'll give you all of our tips on how best to prune these kinds of plants so they can live long, healthy lives again. Let's get started!

Root-Bound Plants & Why They're Bad

When you grow plants in the container, the chances are that the roots will run out of space after some time.  They will then start to grow around the inside of the pot after a certain time. This is what we call being root-bound.

Root bound plant
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The issue with having root-bound plants is that they won't take up water or nutrients as efficiently as non-root bound plants, so it's important to correct this problem as soon as possible.

How to Prune a Root Bound Plant

Locate the Root Ball

First, you should check if your plant is root-bound. This can be tricky, but there are a number of things you can look for:

  • Is the soil hard, and does it crumble when you touch it? If yes, then the chances are high that your plant is root-bound.
  • Does the stem above the roots look weak? If yes, then the chances are high that your plant is root-bound.
  • Look for cracks in the pot's surface or around the bottom of the container your plant is growing in. Cracks usually mean that there is too much space inside the container, so if the plant's root balls have filled up all that space, then the chances are high that your plant is root-bound.

Gather the Tools

Once you've confirmed that your plant is indeed root-bound, it's time to swing to action, and that's root pruning. You need to put all the required tools together, ready for the work. Here are some of the tools you'll need to prune your root-bound plant.

  • A sharp knife or pruning shears
  • Hand cultivator
  • Fresh potting soil mix
  • New potting container
  • A bucket of water
  • Gardening gloves
  • A bucket for mixing soil and perlite
  • Hand trowel
  • Scissors 

Trim the Plant's Roots

If there are any over-grown plant's roots or those roots growing outside the pot, you need to start by trimming them.  Also, trim the top of the root to straighten it out. You will need a pair of scissors and a sharp knife or pruning shears for this job.

Cut out all the roots creeping out of the container. Doing this will make it easy for you to pull out the plant from the container.  Also, It will help prevent the roots from turning grey and rotting.

You'll need to cut off both big and small roots, which may sometimes force you to apply some force. If your plant is too root bound, you'll need to cut out up to a quarter of the root ball, so you give the remaining roots a chance to grow healthy.

Pull the Plant From the Container

Depending on the size of your plant, you may need to apply more energy when pulling off your plant root ball.  If your plant is resistant to leaving its container, use the knife to cut the bottom of the pot to remove the plant. But you can only do this if it's a plastic container. If it's a ceramic pot, you'll have to use a knife to scrape the edges so you can loosen the root ball. You have to be careful not to rip the plant while doing this.

Pull the Plant From the Container
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Prune the Bottom and Sides of the Root Ball

You have to cut off a third of the bottom roots, so you give your plant's root system a chance to grow. If you don't remove the old roots, your plant won't be able to receive nutrients from the soil and wilts.

Prune the Bottom and Sides of the Root Ball
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Next, take out another third from the sides of the root ball with your fingers or knife. If the plant has tap roots, don't touch it. Use scissors to cut the thread roots without harming the main root. You need to expose the fresh, white roots to get air. This is important because lack of oxygen to the root system causes poor growth.

Remove Any Dead or Damaged Roots

If you remove all the dead and damaged roots, your plant will have a better chance of becoming healthy again. If necessary, use a sharp knife to cut off any stubborn root ball. The goal is to give your plant a chance to grow better, and the only way to do that is to ensure the roots are healthy enough.

Replace the Soil with New Potting Soil

Make sure you replace all of the dirt that you removed from the root ball. The new soil must be moist but not saturated. You can mix your soil with perlite to give it better drainage. Good drainage will be important for your plant's health, so you must not pass this step. You can also add some drainage holes to help your pruned roots grow healthy.

You can consider mixing two parts soil and two parts perlite to ensure that your plant is getting the best environment for a healthy root ball. You can take this opportunity to do some easy DIY soil tests and ensure it’s the best for your plant type.

Once you've done this, add the new potting mix to the new container or you can use the same container if it's still in good condition. Make sure you use a larger pot for your plant's size and have enough soil so that your plant can sit at least an inch below the pot's rim. The crown of your plant should be on the soil level.

Repot and Water the Plant

Now it's time to return the soil back to the pot. You can break down the soil ball into smaller chunks using your hands. This will make it easier for the remaining root ball to spread out. You must ensure all the cracks and crannies of your plant and container get enough soil. Use a trowel to spread out the soil on the sides of the pot and fill all the parts evenly.

You must water your plant once you've returned it to its new home. Water until the soil is moist but not soggy or waterlogged. If you are uncertain, simply run a finger along the soil's surface. The feeling should be moist but not soggy or waterlogged.

Clean the Plant Leaves

Once you've done the work of root pruning and repotting your plant, it's time to clean up. And you're not just cleaning the working area and tools, but your plant as well. If you don't know how to clean household plant leaves, this is a good opportunity to learn.

Cleaning the leaves is not optional but take it as an opportunity to pamper your plants and give them good care.  Remove any dead leaves, rotten roots and other debris. This will prevent your plant from rotting or infesting with pests that may ultimately kill it.

FAQs About Root Pruning Your Plants

When is the best time to root prune plants?

Root pruning and repotting can be done at any time. It's not recommended to root prune plants during cold seasons mainly because they are more likely to catch a cold or get sick. So what you need to do at this point is make sure the temperature of the soil will match with the temperature outside, which means it mustn't be too cold or too hot when root pruning.

What are the benefits of root pruning plants?

By root pruning your plant, you will promote air circulation within the roots. It also removes old decaying roots that may likely affect your plant's health. Root pruning will also help stimulate new growth, which boosts flower and fruit production once flowering starts. A root pruned plant becomes more robust, which improves resistance against diseases. 

Do all plants become root bound?  

No, only container plants need root pruning. This is because roots can expand into the soil, allowing more room for growth. However, when left in a container, the root system becomes restricted, causing it to become unhealthy over time. The plants that grow outside the containers have more space to spread their roots, so they're unlikely to get entangled and won't need root pruning.

Final Thoughts About How to Root-Prune Root-Bound Plants

A root bound plant is normal, but it can cause a host of problems – from stunted growth and yellowing leaves to the death of the container plants. This is why it's important to root prune your plants routinely, so they remain healthy and grow well. Once you've done the root pruning, you can repot it to a larger container. Bigger pots will allow your plant to have more space for a better spread of the roots. With this guide, we hope root pruning your plants won't be a problem anymore.


Kristina Perrin

Kristina Perrin

Kristina is an expert DIY home remodeler and mom to three. When she's not cooking or experimenting with new recipes, you can find her working on new home improvement projects or writing about her favorite kitchen appliances or DIY projects on Kitchen Infinity blog.

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