Bound and determined.

And what might this be? One of those clever compostable pots, in a new and improved size? No. This is a rootbound plant. Let me be more clear: It is the mother of all rootbound plants. I’ve never seen its equal. It only looks like it’s encased in a beige box; that perfectly smooth surface is actually a tightly packed network of roots.

The first sign of trouble was when I tipped the pot over to poke through the drainage holes to loosen the plant. I couldn’t even see the drainage holes. The roots had not only come through them but formed a dense mat covering the bottom of the pot. If you’d been looking only at the base of the pot, you’d never have even known its actual color was black.

No amount of pushing, prodding or coaxing would get the plant out; I had to cut the pot away (another first). The whole thing came out with this beige-box base. Weird. I didn’t lose as much as a speck of potting soil; honestly, I could barely even see the potting soil.

With a plant that’s not root-bound—or at least still has some soil around the root that can be manipulated—you should massage the roots to loosen them up, which helps them take up water and nutrients after planting. I gave this guy an experimental squeeze; the roots didn’t even budge. Massaging was impossible. So I sliced into the roots with my trusty garden knife.

Actually, this technique is useful for any rootbound plant; it just takes some getting used to. Slicing through roots feels not only counterintuitive but downright foolhardy. But it really is a good thing. And for a plant like this, it’s essential. Otherwise the roots would have to force their way past a fibrous wall, which just adds to the shock the plant is already feeling from the transplant process itself. So slice away. The idea is not to hack anything off, just to make enough cuts to aerate the roots and open things up a bit.

So far, this patient is doing quite nicely. In fact, it looks a lot better than the coneflowers I planted at the same time, and they weren’t rootbound at all. Go figure.

Posted on Sunday, May 23rd, 2010 at 7:38 pm. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are 3 comments on this post.

  1. Nance says:

    That’s pretty gross. Just pitched both of our huge rosemary bushes this week — they were big and dry and overgrown and nearly that rootbound. One has been with us since Ann Arbor, and for once, I didn’t feel bad about it. They’re just plants. That realization represents growth — ha ha — for me.

    Posted at May 23rd, 2010 at 11:31 pm

  2. Agatha Fitzgerald says:

    Just catching up on how your garden grows! I do most of my gardening on the wondowsill in my room, so I hardly count as a gardener, but I am enjoying yours. By the end of the summer you should have an arial shot so we see the whole picture! Just glad to hear your voice!

    Posted at May 24th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

  3. tt says:

    Agatha, I think Mr. TrowelTART might have an issue with hiring a pilot for an aerial shot. But I’ll post photos throughout the summer. I need to make peace with shooting projects that are in progress or otherwise imperfect. Very few people have perfect gardens anyway, right?

    Posted at May 24th, 2010 at 5:41 pm

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