What Can Be Done About Root Badly Tangled

roughened root ball

Q: I almost purchased a plant that turned out to be terribly rootbound when it slipped from its pot. Can anything be done when roots are this tangled?

A: When roots fill a pot like this, they can’t easily absorb the moisture and nutrients they need. But even when roots are densely packed there are ways to deal with the situation. The first is to soak the root mass in a bucket of water for several hours and then dig out as much soil as possible. Once you can see where the roots originate, grab some sharp clippers and start pruning. I’m comfortable with removing a third of the roots of a houseplant and up to a quarter of the roots of a potted shrub. Once the roots are removed you can put the plant back in the same size pot, if you want the plant to stay the same size, or in a pot 1″ larger in diameter if you want it to grow bigger. Use high quality potting soil to fill the pot.

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