Root pruning

3 Types of Root Pruning 

Generally speaking, there are three types of root pruning, all three have a direct connection to planting, and you will probably come across all three while you work in your garden.

The first, you will come across just before planting, the second, while transplanting, and the third you will also meet just before planting, but this time I'll be talking about pruning the roots that are already growing in your garden soil. For example, before you lay down new grass on ground covered with old roots.

A few more words on root pruning and then, we'll get right in. From my experience, cutting roots has the same amazing impact on plants as pruning does. Though you don't prune the roots to shape the plant, it still has the same impact on the plants growth and development. Root pruning encourages new growth and most importantly, will help your plants to acclimatize to their new area faster.

Note: Although it's not a must, you don't have to prune your plant's roots before you plant them, it will help them grow healthier. For me,it's became a bit of a habit, like everything else I do when I'm working in my garden.

Root pruning before planting

Back from the nursery with a bunch of new plants you're about to plant in the window box or garden? Take a moment before putting them in the soil to prepare the roots. All you have to do is carefully pull out the plant out of its container or bag, and hold it with both hands. One hand holds the plant itself, while using the fingers of your other hand you penetrate the plant's soil and roots, about 1 inch in. from the bottom of the plant (as is shown in the picture). Slowly peel away and remove a layer of soil and roots, and that's it. Your done. Now plant it :-) 

What will happen soon is that the plant's life mechanism will switch on. It will immediately go into survival mode and new roots will start to grow getting better hold of the soil, rather than the plastic container it was in. Good hold on the soil is exactly what you want and what your plant needs. 

Important tip: if the soil of the plant you just brought is dry, please add water, even soak it, then wait few minutes before planting. 

While Transplanting 

Transplanting is an important part of looking after your container garden. Though, in this process you may need to be a little more brutal. You can use a pruning knife or old pruning shears if you don't mind to heart. Cutting roots using any tool will most likely damage the tool in some way, only due to the fact that when metal meets the soil, in the long run, soil wins. If they are large tough roots, I sometimes use my shovel, it really depends on the size of the roots. Anyway, before replanting, same rules apply as those above. Remove some of the soil and cut some of the roots from bottom of the plant. If it's a large root system, you can scratch some of the soil from sides as well. Don't worry, you'll get the same result here - a healthier plant and new growth.   

One more thing about root pruning while transplanting or re-potting - often a plants roots will grow out of the planters drainage holes, don't hesitate to cut them too, just like you see in the picture. 

Preparing Soil for Planting Lawn

If you're planning on laying down new lawn and your garden's soil looks like it does in the picture.... you'll have a little prep work to do. And this time it's a little different, because we'll be cutting roots that are already in the soil.

Thinks to know:

  • Before we start, keep in mind that you won't be able to remove all of the roots, and there is really no need to do so. Some of the roots will simply run too deep, but they also have no effect what-so-ever on the grass roots, which only go 3 or so inches deep.
  • Start by watering the soil. 15-20 minutes twice a day, at approx. the same time. First cycle 07:00 am, second cycle 07:00 pm. If you're using sprinklers or a hose make sure to cover the entire area with the same amount of water. 
  • After 3 days the soil will be soft and easy to work with.
  • Rake the entire area - aim to make it as flat as you can. 
  • As you rake through I recommend you add a compost or a slow-release fertilizer - it's good to mix it in with the soil at that stage, and will help later. 
  • After you finish raking the ground get sharp bypass pruners and cut all the roots you can - at ground level. Most of the roots will be soft, so don't use anvil pruners or loppers. 
  • Rake through again to collect all root cuttings.
  • Rake one last time, this time to create fine slopes from the highest point to lowest . This is important but not a must.
  • Cut again and remove the small roots that have popped up above ground level. 
  • Grass time :-)))

Remember: There's nothing to be afraid of when root pruning, it's like riding a bike - you do it once, get your confidence up, see the positive result on your plant, and slowly it will become a habit.

Important: Often after root pruning your plant's leaves may shrink or even fall. It is perfectly natural and part of the new growth adjustment, just make sure the plant's soil is wet enough.  

Happy root pruning :-) 

Providing general guidelines on 'how to prune' any kind of plant is important, but there are plants, and there is YOUR plant. So despite there being loads of information on this site, I also provide specific and personalized support. If something wasn't clear, or you're not sure of your plant's name, simply send me a picture with your question. Use the form below and I'll get back to you. In the mean time, see what others are asking.