extremely root-bound! transplant to gritty mix

stropharia(8b louisiana)March 6, 2011

I recently purchased an Osmanthus fragrans and decided to transplant it into gritty mix. It was in a 3 gallon container in typical dirt/bark mix. I removed the bottom couple inches of the root ball and used water and a chop stick to remove most of the media. However, once I got past the outer couple inches, I couldn't penetrate any farther: the plant is too root-bound. That means there's a solid chunk perhaps 5 inches thick that I can't get to. From the outside, it looks like it's comprised of just roots, but I assume there's some media in there too.

I know if I leave it, those roots will slowly die, so I'd like to clean it up, but don't want to damage the plant any further. Right now, the roots are sitting in a bucket of water, and every few hours I've removed it, let the water drain off for 30 seconds, and put it back (a weak attempt at aeration). Hardly the ideal situation, obviously, but I don't now how else to keep the roots from drying out. Please help!

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Let me suggest that you either post pictures of the roots & how much foliage the plant has, or send me an email with pictures so I can reply to it & you'll have my addy. I would have already sent my addy to you, but there's no email link @ your user page.

Meanwhile, remove the plant from the water & wrap the roots in damp newspaper or paper towels, then slip the roots into a plastic bag and tie or wrap the bag loosely around the trunk above the roots. The plant will be fine like that until I look at the roots & see what you're dealing with.


    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 10:29PM
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Good suggestions, Al... I must remember them when I attempt to re-pot some items this spring.

In all my years of re-potting plant materials, I've noticed that some plant types take to having their roots mauled during a re-potting better than others, with varying recovery time. The one thing that seems to remain constant, however, is that most plants can take more abuse than we sometimes think. What I mean is, we can handle root balls in such a way that we "comb" out the majority of medium from the previous potting, and the plant will grow new roots to replace the ones broken or damaged during the process. The important thing is not allowing the roots to dry out during the process, and protecting the plant from added stress afterwards.

What I'm trying to say is... I don't usually handle a root ball with kid gloves. I attack it with purpose, and get the job done as well and as quickly as I can. Losing some roots when a root ball is tightly compacted will be inevitable, but I think it's important to remove a majority of old medium to allow for better air and water flow throughout the entire pot once the plant is in its new medium.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 9:08AM
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Jodi is right, there are plants that will not survive a transplant that disturbs the roots. Sometimes no matter how careful you are with those plants you lose them. For most plants you can bare root them with a water stream no matter how bound and compact the roots. I have a pressure washer I use if I have to, super messy but effective. Al

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 9:35AM
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stropharia(8b louisiana)

Hey Al, here are the pictures you requested. The plant is pretty mature obviously, perhaps 3.5 feet tall. I'm not sure what's up with the multiple trunk thing, I think it may have been potted too deep at some point. Unless it's multiple plants...

Thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 5:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I would absolutely bite the bullet & go for removing all the hard-packed soil, in the root mass - removing even moor roots if required to get at it. Go after it from the bottom center upward. IOW, remove the center of the roots under the main trunk. The reason you have so many trunks is because of what I'll tell you to do now. I would cut the plant back hard, like 60 - 75% of the top foliage. It will back-bud profusely & by summer's end, you'll have a very beautiful plant and a lot more confidence. The next repot will be a snap, too. I really wish I was there to help you over the first hurdle. ;o)


    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 6:48PM
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ykerzner(9 TX)

Al, you recommend to cut back the foliage. Isn't that counter-productive because it means fewer leaves available for photosynthesis to help the plant recover?

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 12:54AM
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I see what Al is going for... cutting back the foliage will lessen the canopy and amount of leaves the root system is forced to support... so it will actually be easier on the tree. Is that correct, Al?

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 4:29AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

That's what I understand too Jodi.

I was reading through Tree's in containers, thread again last night for a refresher course. ;-)


    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 9:27AM
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I think it's called a balancing act? Making sure the right amount of roots can support the right amount of foliage and vise versa?

I am so interested in this thread since planting my 8 foot Osmanthus fragrant will be my big project come the spring. I really appreciate this thread you started Stropharia. By the way, this is one of my favorite trees next to citrus.
I can't wait to you succeed in the planting and to see what you have done.

Al, yet thanks again for another learning experience soon to be had!

Hi Jojo and Jodik.:-)


    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 10:00AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Yes - Jodi & JJ understand my reasoning.

YK - normally it would be, but sometimes you need to think outside the box. In this case, after looking at the large volume of roots AND foliage, I weighed the idea that the hardened root mass will permanently impair growth/vitality if not corrected. The plant is easily robust enough now to tolerate the harsh treatment required to remove all the old soil in the old root mass AND remove the roots growing downward from the trunk, leaving mostly roots radiating from the trunk horizontally. When trees are in leaf (broad-leaf evergreens) if you don't balance the foliage with a significantly reduced root mass, the tree may indiscriminately shed parts you don't want shed - parts that may be important to the appearance of the plant. Spring is also the most forgiving time to undertake the work on plants that have been pretty much resting for the winter.

You're correct if your point is that a large foliage mass = more photosynthesis = faster root reestablishment, but there is also the consideration that roots have to be able to move water to the canopy or: no photosynthesis = no auxin flow = abscission layer forming = leaves shedding = the premise trumped. I think that here, the reasonable answer is found in the degree of root reduction. A little bit of messing with the roots = leave the canopy intact & do what you can to reduce transpirational loss; but radical root work requires a reduction in the canopy or it's entirely probable that ALL leaves will be shed, leaving the grower in worse shape than if the top wasn't reduced.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 10:10AM
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A balancing act is a good way to put it... and as Al frequently adds, once you have the knowledge and a bit of experience, it becomes second nature... and you'll know what to do, what to remove, once you have the roots exposed and can see both canopy and root ball.

When it comes to growing, we're all about thinking outside that proverbial box... especially when it comes to commercial wisdom! :-)

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 10:30AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Sorry - didn't see Mike's post, as we were typing at the same time. He's 'got it' too. ;o)


    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 2:14PM
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