NEW warning about circling roots in container stock

davidrt28 (zone 7)May 10, 2014

OK, we all know the drill, you have to check to make sure there are not circling roots on container stock; even if you don't find any, you probably want to break things up a bit.

I recently planted a 'George Tabor' azalea in a very sheltered part of my garden. I had planted one years ago that died during one of the hurricanes from too much water. This one is on higher ground so that won't be a problem. Of course this far north it is somewhat tender and will be injured some winters - hopefully we don't have a repeat a last winter. But the flowers are some of the all-time classics of the azalea world IMHO.

Anyhow, the pot was pretty big for the plant, which was about 20" X 20". Maybe a 3 or 5 gallon. The rootball held together and I was surprised to see just a few feeder roots visible on the surface. "Oh great, it wasn't under potted" I thought. Then I remembered a rhododendron I'd dug up last fall, that I was shocked to see had circling roots. Even though I _always_ check for them. So, I stuck my fingers deep into the root ball. A few inches in, what do I feel but a hard root in a radial formation! Now I started really ripping things apart. Yep, just I as I suspected. When they potted the plant up last year, they just popped it out of a 1 gallon pot, circling roots and all, and threw it in a 3 gallon pot with new soilless mix. Thanks guys!

So, check, and double check, that the whole depth of the rootball has no circling roots.

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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

A bit off topic but related. Purchased a BB 'Autumn Purple' ash via a wholesale nursery (won't mention John Deere). The tree, unbeknownst to me, had been resacked before re-offering it for sale. Admittedly, probably doesn't matter with EAB forthcoming, but...

I always check for plastic string, which WAS on the re-sacked ball and I removed every bit of it on the ball including the noose around the neck. Mistake - I did not remove the burlap!

Zoom forward several years. Mowing, I notice white plastic string emerging around the tree, and when I pulled it and followed, roots had grown around it. All the way around the tree! Of course I removed all that I found, clipping it where it went through the roots.

The point being - as davidrt28 was hinting - be aware that some nurseries minimize labor (and sometimes knowledgeable help) to maximize profits. Too bad there isn't any way to know except CHECK the rootball.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 4:49PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Thanks, I agree it's a related issue, in fact even more serious because having a tree lost in the landscape due to poor wholesaler prep is worse than just a shrub. Even potentially catastrophic if it means the try falls over in the storm because its root system was never anchoring it.
We are really at the mercy of the nurseries in these cases; on a large planting job it would take too long to hunt around in every pot for signs of bad repotting (and certainly every burlapped root system!). My old technique when in a hurry was to just slice the mass in two as best a square spade could. But that would miss the problem I noticed because it seldom goes more than 50% into the interior. I'm going to "trust, but verify" every containerized plant in the future!

This post was edited by davidrt28 on Sat, May 10, 14 at 19:36

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 7:35PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

I always buy the smallest, freshest plants possible for this exact reason. "Potted up" plants here often have circled roots. One local horticulturalists recommends soaking off all the potting soil before planting anything potted--first, to remove the wood-based potting soil which can cause rot in our climate, and second to inspect the root system and trim as necessary (if possible).

Of course this may not work in colder climates, where plants need all the time they can get to settle in before a cold winter arrives. We can get away with it here.

Last year I got a pair of super fresh Crape Myrtles--no circled roots at all--beautifully grown--and the growth and health of them has been simply amazing. A healthy root system makes a huge difference.

The original landscaping here--it never thrived. There was just nothing I could do to get those plants to grow. I dug just about everything up, and the roots were ALL in tight circles. Very sad. What a waste. And yes several were 'George Tabor', a plant that deserves better!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 7:53PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

so whats NEW about it all????

caveat emptor ...

what seems new.. is that you are now onto it...lol ..

it is ALWAYS.. a false dichotomy ... to buy big .. for instant gratification .. to grow it big.. it has to either be field grown and raped from mother earth.. and in digging.. who knows if the root mass was slaughtered ...

or grown in a series of pots ... from a one year graft in a quart pot.. to to one gal.. to a three... to a 5 to a 10.. to a 20.. to a 30 .. all over a 10 year span to grow this instant gratification the buyer wants ...

i mean really.. your seller sells it for lets say.. 200$ .... over 10 years ... he made 20 bucks per year on it... minus all the water.. fert.. manpower to water it.. irrigation... potting media.. pots... etc... his net profit is probably 80 cents ... not to mention.. he probably lost half of what he started with .. it a wonder any of them stay in business ...

dont get me wrong.. you are absolutely right ... but there is nothing you can do about it..

but what hoov and i do ... buy little ... and grow them out yourself ...

ken

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 8:05PM
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cold_weather_is_evil(9)

>> grow this instant gratification the buyer wants

I. WANT. MY. TREE. NOW!

...where did we put the hammock?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 8:16PM
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prairiegirlz5

Just bought and planted the cutest little Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee' for Mother's Day. It didn't have circling roots, just three perfect larger stems in a nice symmetrical shape. Yesterday (two DAYS) after planting, my son and nephew were playing soccer in the backyard. I came home from work and immediately noticed the droopy leaves on one branch. That'd be the one broke off at the base and stuck back in the dirt!! It in turn had branched, leaving me with a small shrub with only two branches. Nice.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 7:08AM
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prairiegirlz5

Just bought and planted the cutest little Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee' for Mother's Day. It didn't have circling roots, just three perfect larger stems in a nice symmetrical shape. Yesterday (two DAYS) after planting, my son and nephew were playing soccer in the backyard. I came home from work and immediately noticed the droopy leaves on one branch. That'd be the one broke off at the base and stuck back in the dirt!! It in turn had branched, leaving me with a small shrub with only two branches. Nice.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 7:09AM
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prairiegirlz5

Just bought and planted the cutest little Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee' for Mother's Day. It didn't have circling roots, just three perfect larger stems in a nice symmetrical shape. Yesterday (two DAYS) after planting, my son and nephew were playing soccer in the backyard. I came home from work and immediately noticed the droopy leaves on one branch. That'd be the one broke off at the base and stuck back in the dirt!! It in turn had branched, leaving me with a small shrub with only two branches. Nice.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 7:48AM
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prairiegirlz5

Just bought and planted the cutest little Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee' for Mother's Day. It didn't have circling roots, just three perfect larger stems in a nice symmetrical shape. Yesterday (two DAYS) after planting, my son and nephew were playing soccer in the backyard. I came home from work and immediately noticed the droopy leaves on one branch. That'd be the one broke off at the base and stuck back in the dirt!! It in turn had branched, leaving me with a small shrub with only two branches. Nice.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 7:49AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Ken,
what is new (to me) is that these problems are buried deep within the root mass from prior repottings, and not visible on immediate inspection when removing the pot and seeing the state of the roots.
In fairness bboy talked about the same issue last summer, I suppose I had to see it myself to realize the extent of the problem. I have at least a couple plants I'm debating about digging up to check for this:

Here is a link that might be useful: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/conif/msg0809002717480.html?14

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 4:23AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The worst problem is impossibly tight roots right at the base due to too long stays in liners, bands or 4 inch pots before growing on in larger containers or field rows. You do not avoid this by buying small, if the plants were in the small pots long enough to become deformed before you bought them, or by buying field grown stock as much of that has spent time in small containers before going into a field.

In my experience the problem is general, not occasional, and as long as the public does not gripe to retailers about it there is no incentive for growers to mend their ways. Except a belief in doing a good job, which apparently is not much acted upon in this particular subject area. In fact, certain wholesale companies who tout their superior quality quite a bit in their promotional literature are among the worst chronic offenders.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 5:52PM
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ghostlyvision

I didn't have to dig into the root mass to find circling roots this spring, every single plant I bought (at least a dozen, from two or three different retailers), at the very beginning of spring, had circling roots. You might expect to see that at mid or late summer with those that went unsold earlier in the planting season, but these all looked like they'd been in a too-small pot for months, very irritating.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 6:53PM
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