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How to Root Prune a Root Bound Plant

Root Prune a Root Bound Plant

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A plant begins to suffer when its roots exceed its container and begin to grow outside of it. When this occurs, the plant must either be transferred to a bigger container or trim its roots. Root trimming is not as frequent as repotting a plant into a larger container.

Root-bound plants have a dense, compact rootball that “suffocates” the plant, preventing normal nutritional, water, and air circulation. Thus, when you see the tips of a plant’s roots growing out of the drainage holes of its pot, it’s time for action! There are times when repotting a plant into a larger container is no longer an option.

For instance, if you don’t want an indoor tree that is already planted in a 14-inch pot to grow much higher (otherwise, you’ll have to move out yourself!), you may control its development by root trimming and repotting it in the same container. By knowledgeably caring for your plants, you can ensure their longevity and health!

If you have a plant that is growing out of control, it may be time to perform a root prune. This process can help control the size of the plant and keep it healthy.

This blog post will discuss how to properly root-prune a root-bound plant. Keep in mind that this process should only be used on healthy plants with plenty of roots.

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Why Root pruning?

Root pruning is a great way to contain plants’ growth.

Root pruning is a great way to contain plants’ growth. It essentially involves cutting away some of the roots, which encourages the plant to focus its energy on the remaining roots and produce fewer new ones. This restricts the plant’s overall growth. Root pruning is usually done every few years or as needed.

It’s a good idea to prune the roots of your plants when you transplant them into a new pot since this will encourage them to produce fewer new roots and become more compact. You can also prune your plants’ roots if you are outgrowing its pot or if you want to keep it a certain size. Root pruning is relatively easy to do and doesn’t require any special equipment.

Root pruning is also a great way to keep your plants’ roots healthy. 

Root pruning is often done to redirect a plant’s vitality into new, healthier growths. It can also stimulate root growth, increase water and nutrients absorption, or discourage certain kinds of pests. Root pruning is also a great way to maintain the roots of your plants healthy and encourage new growth.

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When to Root-Prune a Potted Plant

The right time to prune your plant’s roots is when the roots of the plant have filled the pot and are beginning to loop around the interior surface. Another telltale sign that it is time to root-prune is when the roots are seen escaping through the drainage holes.

How often this needs to be done varies depending on the plant and how quickly it grows. In some cases, you may need to cut off the roots in order to remove the plant from a tapering container with a narrow mouth (the mouth is less than halfway across the pot). Other symptoms that will let you know that it is a good idea to root prune your plant are the following:

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Yellow Foliage

If your plant’s leaves begin to turn yellow, root constriction is a symptom. It might harm the whole plant or only the leaves around the plant’s base. This is often owing to the plant’s inability to take nutrients from the soil (since the roots occupy more space than the soil, leaving them little to absorb).


If your plant continues to wilt no matter how often you water it, it may be an indication of root entanglement. Since the roots cannot efficiently absorb water due to their close proximity, the plant is always parched and withering.


If the roots of your plants have stopped the drainage openings in their container, they may wind up sitting in water, making them perfect candidates for root rot.


A root-bound plant’s stressed condition renders it more prone to attack by pests.

Pot Damage

When the roots of your plants are excessively constricted, the container may actually deform or shatter!

Lack of Soil

As roots develop, they displace the soil in the container and may ultimately occupy more space than the soil. If you see roots protruding from the surface of the earth, this indicates that your plant is root-bound, if not already.

Since some of these symptoms may be caused by a variety of plant concerns (over-or under-watering, lack of fertilizer, etc.), remove the plant from the inner grower pot to see whether it is root-bound.

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What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Hand cultivator
  • Pruning shears or sharp knife
  • Long knife (if needed)
  • Stick, pronged cultivator, or fork (if needed)


  • Small bag of potting soil
  • New flower pot (optional)
  • Free Woman taking sprouts of home plants Stock Photo


1.- Examine the Root Ball

First, remove the plant from its container and inspect the roots. Do not just remove the plant from its container, especially if it is a sensitive plant. Invert the container and tap the rim if the plant is not very large. If the pot is flexible, attempt to loosen it by softly compressing its sides.

Put your hand at the plant’s base and wiggle or slide the rootball out. Additionally, you may need to run a long knife around the circumference of the pot to separate the roots and dirt from the inside.

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2.- Trim the Roots

Utilize a pair of scissors, pruning shears, or a sharp knife to begin root trimming. Cut around and beneath the plant’s root ball to remove roots and dirt. You may be rather forceful while removing both big and little roots.

This may seem rather harsh, as if you are injuring your plant, but a plant’s roots can withstand great damage, and the plant may even be grateful for it. Removing the bottom one-fourth of the old roots for very root-bound plants may assist in regenerating healthy growth.

Free Person Holding Green Plant on Brown Soil Stock Photo

3.- Loosen the Rootball

Using your fingers, separate the rootball carefully. Take a stick, cultivator with prongs, or a fork and loosen the dirt and roots around the surface of the root ball, removing tangles and spreading the roots if necessary. This stimulates the roots to spread into the soil around the ball, as opposed to continuing to grow in circles and strangle the plant.

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4.- Prepare the Pot

Add potting mix to the container’s bottom. Ensure that there is sufficient soil so that the now-smaller root ball sits about 1 inch below the lip of the container. Ensure that the plant’s crown, where the stem joins the roots, is at the soil level.

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5.- Repot the Plant

Finally, return the plant to the container and add dirt around the freshly clipped rootball. Ensure that dirt fills any crevices between the rootball and the edges of the container. You may require a stick or trowel to move around the pot’s sides and ensure that all spaces have been filled.

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6.- Water the Plant

Water the plant Liberally after repotting, and add extra dirt if necessary. Ensure that your plant is well hydrated for a few weeks so that it may recuperate and flourish.

Free From above dirty roots with fertile soil of delicate small green plant prepared for gardening placed on marble table Stock Photo

Plants that like to be root bound

Spider plants, sansevieria (snake plant), umbrella tree, jade, and aloe are examples of plants that actually do their best when they are root-bound. Root-bound plants generate pups or young plants because they need to be stressed in order to reproduce.

Repotting these plants will allow the mother plant to grow bigger. Still, it will also prevent the mother plant from producing offspring until it becomes root-bound again. You may keep them tight as long as they don’t show signs of root binding.

Plants that are root-bound have a dense network of roots that fills up the container entirely. The roots may even start growing out of the drainage holes. While this might seem like a bad thing, it’s actually quite natural for these types of plants. In fact, being root-bound can help to stimulate growth.

However, if a plant is left too long without being repotted, it can become pot-bound. This means that the roots have started to strangle and kill each other, which can ultimately lead to the death of the plant. If you think your plant might be pot-bound, simply remove it from its pot and replant it in a larger one.

Free Person Holding Green Plant Stock Photo

Root Prune a Root Bound Plant – FAQ

What is root pruning?

Root pruning is the act of trimming a plant’s roots when root-bound. You don’t want the pot to have a huge clump of roots in it because this means the plant will not get much nourishment from the dirt.

What should I do to know if my plant is root bound?

To know if your plant is root pruned, most plants will show signs such as roots creeping out of the pot. However, for container plants, you first need to examine the root ball for pruned roots. If the root ball looks extremely tangled, you need to get it root pruned.

Should I use fresh potting soil after I root prune plants?

Yes, to promote new and healthy root growth, we encourage using fresh potting soil for the remaining root ball.

Are there plants that like to be root pruned?

Yes, some examples are Spider plants, sansevieria (snake plant), umbrella tree, jade, and aloe.

Is pruning roots a requirement for healthy potted plants?

Yes, a root-pruned plant will have some roots creeping out the soil surface. Therefore, the plant’s root system will be compromised, slowing new root growth.

What are tap roots?

Tap roots are the thick, fleshy roots that some plants have, and they are found in the center of the plant’s root ball and can be quite difficult to cut through. You will want to do root cutting on the thread roots, not the tap roots.

What is a thread root?

Thread roots are small, more delicate roots found on the outskirts of a plant’s root ball. These are the roots you will want to focus on when root pruning.

How do I examine a root ball?

To examine a root ball, simply remove the plant from its pot and look for any roots that are growing out of the drainage holes. If you see any, that’s a good indication that the plant is root-bound and in need of root pruning.

How do I fix root-bound plants?

The best way to fix a root-bound plant is to remove it from its pot and replant it in a larger one. This will give the

What are non-root-bound plants?

Non-root-bound plants are the types of plants that like to have a lot of space to grow. They don’t do well when their roots are confined, so it’s important to give them plenty of room to grow.

How to Root Prune a Root Bound Plant

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M.Arch. Julio Arco
M.Arch. Julio Arco

Bachelor of Architecture - ITESM University
Master of Architecture - McGill University
Architecture in Urban Context Certificate - LDM University
Interior Designer - Havenly
Architecture Professor - ITESM University

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