Give roots el­bow room by prun­ing

The Progress-Index - At Home - - News - LEE RE­ICH


“Root prun­ing” sounds like such a bru­tal way to treat a plant. Yet it’s a pe­ri­odic ne­ces­sity once any pot­ted plant has grown as large as you want it to.

Pot­ted plants — like other plants — grow, and while a 50foot-tall weep­ing fig is a glo­ri­ous sight on a Caribbean is­land, my liv­ing room ceil­ing won’t al­low it.

Root prun­ing slows stem growth, and makes room for new soil and new roots.

How of­ten to root prune any pot­ted plant de­pends on how fast that plant grows, and any quirks it has about be­ing root­pruned. An­gel’s trum­pet, for ex­am­ple, gets one se­vere root and stem prun­ing ev­ery year, in fall. Root and stem prun­ing are needed to stim­u­late new stem growth, on which is borne those eerily beau­ti­ful, pale-apri­cot-col­ored trum­pets.

Pot­ted fig plants can fruit in pots as long as they get root pruned ev­ery year or two so that roots find new soil to pro­mote vig­or­ous, an­nual stem growth.

In con­trast, af­ter 19 years, I have yet to root prune my pony tail palm.

Plants have sub­tle ways of in­di­cat­ing that their roots need new soil in which to roam. Keep an eye out for plants that dry out too rapidly or send roots creep­ing out drainage holes. My pony­tail palm burst its pot; per­haps it’s time to root prune or give it a larger pot.

Root prune any plant that’s be­gin­ning to look too tall or too crowded in its pot — or give it a larger pot. Ex­cep­tions in­clude clivia, which thrives cramped for years in the same pot un­til even­tu­ally burst­ing it.

The best way to tell whether a plant needs root prun­ing is to slide the root ball out of the pot and ex­am­ine it. Thick roots pressed right to the edge of a root ball, or cir­cling its out­side, in­di­cate that the time to op­er­ate has come.

(Cac­tii and other suc­cu­lents are an ex­cep­tion: Let their soil thor­oughly dry be­tween wa­ter­ings, even af­ter root prun­ing.)

Fi­nally, prune the stems so the re­duced root sys­tem has fewer leaves to sup­port. Be­sides, the whole pur­pose of root prun­ing has been to keep the plant from grow­ing larger.

Rest as­sured that plants tol­er­ate all this prun­ing. Just look at bon­sai trees, whose heights can still be mea­sured in inches af­ter hun­dreds of years. They are kept that way with reg­u­lar root and shoot prun­ing.


Above: This un­dated photo shows roots of a black tu­pelo (Nyssa syl­vat­ica) plant es­cap­ing a pot in New Paltz, New York. Root prune any plant that’s be­gin­ning to look too tall or too crowded in its pot or give it a larger pot.

Left and Above: This un­dated photo shows root surgery be­ing per­formed on a kumquat (For­tunella japon­ica) plant in New Paltz, New York. To root prune, take a sharp knife, grit your teeth, and slice a one-half to two inch layer of soil from all around...

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