Root-Bound Plants

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Though we may not see it, plant roots are growing underground. Roots often grow just as much under the soil as their above ground counter parts. Healthy root systems are key to advantages such as connection to surrounding plants, resource availability, and stability. Container plants, however, can occasionally have too much root growth. Leading to a condition called root/pot bound.

Many plants grown in containers can become root bound. Often house plants that remain in the same pot for many years fall victim. Also common are containerized landscape plants. Each being left in the container for many growing seasons. Plants that become root bound have excessive root growth. The roots have displaced most of the media in the container. Leading to the container not retaining water. One of the tail-tail signs of the condition is plants will become droopy and exhibit signs of drought stress.

Aloe vera beginning to bloom April 2022

Figure 1: Aloe vera beginning to bloom April 2022

My Aloe vera has been in the same pot going on 4 years (figure 1). This spring I noticed the leaves were much thinner than usual. It also began to turn a red color near the tips and bases of the leaves. Upon further investigation I found thick roots encircling the entire edge of the pot (figure 2). I also saw that the roots were coming out the drainage hole.

Figure 2: Thick roots encircling the pot

Figure 2: Thick roots encircling the pot

At this point I knew I had to re-pot. I decided that I wanted it to remain in the same pot. I removed the top portion and propagated it. This will decrease the amount of stress the root section will take from root pruning. Next, I removed the root section from the pot and found a very vigorous root system (figure 3). In some situations, you may have the break the pot to remove the plant. Once the plant is removed break apart the roots as much as you can. Taking up to 1/3 of the root mass away. This can then be placed back into the same container it came from backfilling with fresh new media. The plant should rebound and make a full recovery with some time and care.

Figure 3: Root system removed from the pot

Figure 3: Root system removed from the pot