Too Many Roots? How to Fix Root Bound Plants

With the arrival of spring, it is time to start thinking about getting into the garden and adding new plants.

With the arrival of spring, it is time to start thinking about getting into the garden and adding new plants.

Each time I remove a plant from its container, I am looking for circling roots, which is the classic sign of a root bound plant.

(Thankfully, this shrub had none).

However, my new lavender plant did have circling roots.

You can see how the roots grow in a circular pattern, which indicates that it is ‘root-bound’.

So, how does a plant become root bound and why is it bad?

Plants become root bound (also called ‘pot bound’) when they outgrow their container and aren’t repotted in a larger one.  So, their roots grow round and round, which halts growth.

What are the signs of a root bound plant?

– Slow or no new growth.

– Roots growing out of the drainage hole.

– Plants that have been in the nursery too long without being repotted.

So what can you do if you have a root bound plant, like my new mint plant?

The solution is very simple…

Cut the roots.

Make numerous downward cuts so that the circular roots are cut.  This forces the roots to grow outward when they are replanted.

Remove any brown or black roots, which are most likely dead.  Keep the white roots, which are alive.

‘Massage’ the root ball of your plant, which will help loosen the roots even more.

Plant your plant and its ‘freed roots’ in a larger plant or in the ground.  The newly cut roots will grow outward and your plant will start growing again.

That’s all there is to fixing a root-bound plant.

I love it when gardening problems are easy to fix, don’t you?

**Be cautious when a plant nursery has a ‘special’ sale on plants.  Sometimes they do this to get rid of plants that have been in their pots for too long rather then having to repot them.

You can learn more about selecting plants and how to plant them in this helpful Birds & Blooms article.

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.