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.