When an avid plant-person like myself is at a party, the conversation often turns to gardening. So at a recent gathering I was not surprised when a neighbor approached me. “I was watching some gardening shows on TV the other day,” she said, “and on one program they were saying that the roots of a plant need to be loosened when planting. They were pulling the roots apart, and cutting the root-balls. But on the next program they said that you should disturb the roots as little as possible. So… which is it?”
Although these programs seemed to give contradictory advice, both were correct. Ideally, the roots of a plant should remain undisturbed. Roots normally grow underground and untouched. And when moving plants from container to garden, we don’t want to shock them by damaging their root-systems.
Now, if a plant has been in the container only a short time, it’s usually possible to place it in the soil without root disturbance. But more often than not plants remain in pots or flats beyond the ideal period of time. Once the roots spread through the soil they hit the side of the container, and begin to circle around the circumference of the pot.
Because root systems grow quickly, many plants come out of their container root bound; the roots have encircled the pot several times. You often see a network of white roots that stay in the shape of the container they were in. This is a problem because a tight ball of roots dries out rapidly, and doesn’t get quickly established in the soil.
So the gardener has to take action. If possible, the roots should be gently pulled apart and spread away from the root-ball. But if the roots are tightly bound together this may be difficult. In these cases, you have to tear the roots apart or cut an “x” across the bottom with a knife.
From contradictory advice the truth is rooted out; plant undisturbed if you can, but help congested roots to spread out a little.