Root Growth

LynxoApril 25, 2011


when you buy a potted citrus or fruit tree and repot it, generally how long does it take for the roots to establish?

I bought a royal lee and mini royal cherry tree. when I repotted it, some of the roots broke off. It's been a few weeks and the leaves are still wilted in the new containers

which are 15 gallon smart pots.

My Haas avocado, the leaves are falling off or just crumbling apart, not may leaves left. Is it dying?

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What kind of soil did you use>? You need to have alot of perlite/rocks/sand for drainage. The ph of potting soil is 6.5 the tree may want it lower. If you did not add those materials for drainage then if you can take the palnt out and make the right mix and plant it in a 30 gal if you cant the 15gl will work for now.

Say you dont want to do this^ Try letting the soil get dry untill the pot becomes super light then add compost tea. Do the same w the avocada.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 7:52PM
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Thanks for your reply. I use E.B. Stone Edna's Organic.

I also added 10-20% perlite to it and it's in a 15 gallon
Smart Pot. My understanding is the Smart Pot will air prune and allow for quicker waster disipation.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 1:25PM
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Ok good on the perlite and very nice pot. Like I said let it dry out then try giving it a "revieve" B-1(kelp,ect..),compost tea, or there are revieve products. It could be somthing else like PH they love acidic soil.
When growing in pots a good "cleaner" should be used. Enzyms that break organic material and dead rots into usable food for the plant just like the microbs.There are diff products but hygrozym I believe its called may (most certainly will)
make your plants come back thrive and stay productive for their life. If you use this and are not seeing results then your plant has real issues with disease.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 8:53PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think that before any meaningful advice can be given about establishment times, we need to consider what you mean by 'repot', which is considerably different than 'potting up'. Repotting includes removing all or a significant fraction of the soil, and usually bare-rooting. It requires significantly more care & consideration than simply potting up, which you can do at any time with impunity.

If you really only potted up, we probably need to look somewhere else to establish the cause/effect relationship at the source of the trouble. The first thing that comes to mind is your soil choice, watering habits, or possibly the level of soluble salts in the soil (over-fertilizing?).


    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 12:25AM
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Thanks for the clarification of 'Repot' in this case, it's a pot up.

The potting soil is EB Stone Edna's Organic. I bought the cherry trees and potted up in 15 gallon plastic container.
Had them for about 1.5 months and they were slowly growing more leaves.

I then pulled the tree out of the plastic pot, whic there was new root growth I had not see before, but in haste, pulled hard and broke many roots. I then potted up in
the smart pot so it still had the original soil.

It's been a few weeks so I'm curious if it just takes longer for the roots to re-establish, out of the shock
stage. since it's spring and the tree is not dormant,
that is more of a shock to it with broken roots?


    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 1:23PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If the roots that you damaged weren't major conductive roots growing close to the trunk, and only small roots close to the perimeter of the root mass, you wouldn't even notice a hesitation in the tree's drive to put on its spring flush of growth; it would be business as usual. How large were the containers the trees were in before you potted up? where do you have the smart pots sited - on the ground? How rough were you when you "broke many roots"?

Often, if you just lift a rootbound tree from its old pot and pot up into fresh soil. It just sits there & doesn't grow roots into the new soil. This is usually due to depressed vitality from the rootbound conditions that may not be readily evident because the tree looks ok to the grower. Scoring the root ball deeply with several vertical cuts using a utility knife, and making an X-shaped cut on the bottom of the roots is usually helpful in getting root-bound trees to reestablish, but trees that are rootbound will never grow well unless you correct the condition & repot.

It's hard to say exactly what you have going on w/o more info.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 2:09PM
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Hi Al,

they were in 5 gallon containers. the trees are about 5/8" diameter and 4' high. definately root bound at the time.

During the pot up, I tugged on it and heard some snapping. They are not in the ground but on concrete, small apartment patio.

I will wait another few weeks and see if it starts to take off.

for 'repotting', that should only be done during winter when the tree is dormant? or I could repot now, get rid
of the old soil and prune the roots more?

I don't think it's dead, just in shock.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 5:33PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If the trees are in leaf, I would wait until next spring (or possibly fall - depends on where you live. You might consider adding your zone and a large city or area of the state you live to your user info that appears in each post.) to do full repots, but if you didn't remove some of the circling roots from the old rootball, I think I'd remove them from their new home promptly & make the cuts in the rootball I mentioned, which will facilitate root colinization of the fresh soil.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 8:03PM
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I know my experience contradicts the vast majority, but smartpots have almost killed multiple tree saplings of mine, and have been a nightmare for the four tomato plants I experimented with this year. Despite the manufacturers claims to the contrary, water retention seems to have been the primary problem. Neem tree seedlings, usually practically unkillable plants, wilted and dropped leaves in the pots. The soil would simply never dry out. I finally chose to repot the seedlings in the gritty mix, and they're starting to recover now. When I pulled up the roots during repotting, I could count the number of fibrous offshoots from the taproot on one hand - making it obvious why the plant was dying. Just a week in a well-draining mix provided some noticeable improvement.

Similarly, tomato seedlings had to be nursed through severe overwatering symptoms for almost two months, though they're now doing okay. Despite using 30 gallon smartpots, the average size of the tomato plants is 1/4th or less than that of my tomato plants in the ground.

I could be doing something wrong, but I can't imagine what - as I used different, well-reviewed potting mixes for each smartpot (to gauge performance). You should put your smartpots on the ground, rather than on concrete, if possible. Doing so theoretically establishes capillary contact with the ground, and turns the pots into modular raised beds. On the concrete, there is greater potential for waterlogging and a perched water table.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 11:42AM
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Hi Al,

I'm in Orange County, Southern, CA.

I googled scoring root ball. Do you have any links to pics or diagrams. I'm not sure how far up I should score them
and on how many roots.

There is only the main branch and 2 other smaller branches with leaves. there is not much top growth right now.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 11:48AM
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Thanks for the advise. I'm in a small apartment patio so there is no ground to put them on :-:

I would love to do the gritty mix but the supplies are not readily available in my area and I'm in a position to make the mix.

I have not read any negative comments on the smart pots till now. Maybe your soil is the culprit and not the smart pot? You mentioned improvement with the gritty mix.

I have blueberry plants in 7 gallon smart pots and they are all doing well.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 12:33PM
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understood. Thank you.

I've thought about it sitting on concrete and the drainage.
I will probably make some wood risers to lift it off the concrete or look for some kind of plastic grate.

the EB potting mix contains: Contains Composted Fir Bark, Sphagnum Peat Moss, Redwood Compost, Mushroom Compost, Volcanic Pumice, Earthworm Castings, Washed Sand, Kelp Meal, Bat Guano, Feather Meal, Gypsum and Mycorrhizae.Oyster Shell Lime and Dolomite Lime are added as pH adjusters. A natural wetting agent, Yucca shidegera saponin, has been added to help remoisten the product.

I added 10-20% perlite even though your water perching article says it does not help :-) I had bought a large
bag before I came to this site.

if the roots are only 1/4" to 1/2" in diameter, you still would cut through the depth of the knife?

so there is no way to improve soil drainage with pre-mix
potting soil as with the one I use?

I'm still looking for bark fines. Home Depot has something called Bark Pieces, sorry can't remember the exact name, it's in the mulching section, not sure if that's the same
as the one you use in gritty mix.

I'm going to root prune them and see what happens.
Is it okay to root prune an avocado or they are too
sensitive? the local nusery people told me not to root prune.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 2:23PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you're not taking advantage of the wicking action of the earth by having the smart pots sitting on the ground, you lose the advantage of having them behave like raised beds, and water-retentive soil will cause the same issues in the smart pots as in regular containers. You gain some advantage in that they do dry down quicker, but you still need to watch what kind of soil you use, where if they were resting on the ground, you could get away with a heavier soil.

I suspected that might be an issue quite a while ago, and that's what I was fishing for when I asked about where you had them sited.

As far as scoring the root ball - you would score them from bottom to top at 3-4" intervals around the entire circumference of the root mass and on the bottom as well, to the depth of the utility knife blade (1 - 1-1/2").


    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 2:33PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

"I added 10-20% perlite even though your water perching article says it does not help ..."

I DOES help in the sense that it occupies space in the soil that might otherwise be filled with water, but it really does little for drainage (flow-through rates) or the height of the PWT unless it's by far the most significant fraction of the soil. What happens is, the small peat particles surround the perlite, leaving drainage through the peat & PWT ht virtually unaffected unless the perlite, combined with other large particulates, is a significant (75%+) fraction of the soil. You probably read the illustration of the quart jar full of marbles with sand added to fill in the space between the marbles having the drainage characteristics and PWT ht of the sand only?

Tell me again how large the root mass was? 3 gallons, you said?


    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 3:33PM
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I'm also in OC, here's where I get my ingredients for the gritty mix:

Fir Bark: Armstrong Nursery (Huntington Beach next to Central Park but there are other locations, check their website). It's packaged as GreenAll Micro Bark, white bag with green text.

Turface: Ewing Irrigation (Western Ave. Garden Grove/Stanton, but again there are other locations, check their website [])

Crushed Granite: Midway City Feed (Midway City/Westminster area off of Beach Blvd.). You can substitute perlite for this.

The gritty mix really has changed gardening for me. If you're not in a position to make it this year, then you should definitely make the switch next year.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 4:41PM
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Hi Al,

they are all from 5 gallon containers, typical nursery/HD stock.

on the topic of root prune, I also have a grapefruit and meyer lemon, all 5 gallon. also potted up in smart pots. the flowers are dropping and the fruit is bead size. is it too late to root prune these?

if I touch the lemon though, some of the tiny fruit fall off, few leaves are yellow at the tips, not all.

I was debating on root pruning due to lack of courage and experience but after reading your articles a few times, it just makes so much sense to do so. now it's an issue of timing, when it is appropriate.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 4:45PM
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Thanks for the sources. That's very helpful! :-)

is the Fir Bark and Turface expensive? Do they come
in heavy 40lb bags? that's one of my concerns is the weight.

I'm sure it's been asked before, hard to search though.
What's the difference with crushed granite vs. perlite?

is just a weight difference?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 7:43PM
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