How to Loosen a Root Ball before Repotting (Tips & Tricks)

You may have heard about loosening a root ball before repotting but do you know why you loosen a root ball? Or how to do it properly?

If you’re here right now, chances are you love your plants and you would do anything for them. 

Well, loosening the root ball before repotting is one of those things you don’t want to skip and you definitely don’t want to rush. 

Loosening the root ball takes time and patience. It's a true labour of love. This delicate process can be tedious, but your plants will certainly thank you for it. 

Loosening the Rootball 

The first time I repotted a plant, I didn't know that you needed to loosen the rootball. 

I simply put it in a bigger pot and watched it suffer for a week before I learned what I did wrong (thank you instagram plant community ). 

So, I took the plant out and went to repot again, this time “loosening” the root ball. 

At the time, I had no idea how to do this properly.. I watched a few reels of other people and thought I was an expert. 

They did their whole plant in 30 seconds or less… so did I… 

Now… to be VERY clear. It should definitely take you WAY longer than 30 seconds to loosen a root ball. 

And looking back, I brutally mutilated this innocent little plant.

My impatient fingers were way too excited, it was 11pm in the midst of winter and I was ready to do plant things like a real plant mom. 

It was a total horror show. 

I didn't understand how gentle you really had to be… 

I didn’t know the secrets ( like making sure that the roots are wet ) and destroyed most of the roots by insensitively pulling apart the baby plants from the main one. 

I didn’t massage… I pulled and ripped… and my poor plant suffered for it. 

The plant lost many leaves. It had to in order to balance out the root loss.  It also didn't help that it was -30ºC (That’s -22 F for my imperial friends) and I have drafty windows.

Out of a pure miracle, this plant survived (high five for resiliency)

However, I will never forget the torture those babies endured. 

Never again will I loosen the root ball how I did that day. 

Since then, I have researched the best ways to loosen the root ball, had more practice and am here to help you not make the same mistake that I did! 

So if you’re ready to go, let’s learn about the root ball and why it is so important to loosen when repotting! 


What does the ROOT actually do? 

The roots are what anchor your plant in the soil, they also assist in the absorption of water, oxygen, minerals, and storage of food.

Roots are very important and without them, most plants will not survive. 


What is a root ball? 

A root ball is what forms at the base of your plant, it is a collection of established roots. 

Every plant has a different way of growing roots, some are long and thin while others are short and thicker. The appearance of a root ball will depend on the type of plant. 


Why must you loosen the root ball when repotting?

Loosening the root ball when repotting is only essential when the plant has become completely root bound. 

In cases where they are not completely rootbound, you may be able to plant directly into the next pot.

If the roots are not wrapped tightly around each other, there is no need to cut and disturb them. 

The only time we need to disturb the roots is if there is a threat that the plant could strangle off the supply of necessary elements. 

(Water, oxygen, minerals) 


Rootbound

When a plant is rootbound, the roots crowd and curl up into each other. Sometimes this can look like roots bursting out the sides of pots, letting us know that it's time to get a bigger pot. 

A rootbound plant has a hard time carrying oxygen, water and minerals to the plant's foliage. Making it more difficult to survive and thrive. 

When we re-pot a plant, we are giving it an opportunity to expand its roots, which will make the foliage flourish and allow new growth.


What happens if you don’t loosen the root ball? 

If you put a solid root ball in a new pot, the plant will have a difficult time growing. 

Imagine being all tangled up and knotted off, the roots begin to suffocate! 

It has a more difficult time carrying water, nutrients and absorbing oxygen, all of the things your plant needs to grow and without them, your plant will strangle itself. 

So I think we’ve settled why it is SO important for you to loosen the root ball. 


Best way to loosen the root ball 

The best way to loosen the root ball is to take your time and be very very gentle. You need to be careful and have patient hands. 

The last thing you want to do is start ripping out roots and pulling the plant apart with force. 

Start by pushing on the outside of the nursery pot with a good amount of force. Not enough to break the pot but enough to watch the soil shift shape.

This should allow the plant to be taken out of the pot without risking any root breakage. 

Once you get the root out of the pot, assess the roots. See if you can get your fingers in between the roots to gently pull them apart. It should be gentle like detangling someone's hair.  

Start at the bottom edges, working your way up and towards the centre of the root ball. 

The intention here is to loosen the outer layer of roots so that they can grow freely into the bigger pot. 

“I can’t get apart the roots without breaking them” 

 If they are so tightly knit that you can't get your fingers between the roots then you might have to wet the roots. 

In this case, soaking them for a bit in water may do the trick. This will loosen the soil around the roots and allow them to become more flexible. 

In the most extreme cases, you can take a sharp knife and cut along the bottom portion of the root ball. Try not to take any more than 1/3rd of the total root to put the least amount of stress possible on the plant. 

In some cases, trimming the roots can actually be beneficial to the plant. It will help them absorb nutrients more easily. Just note that the plant will spend the next few weeks / months re-developing the root and might not push out as much foliage as you’re used to, but this is only temporary.

If choosing this method, select the roots you wish to trim with care. This technique works especially well if you wish to keep your plant in a smaller pot for longer, as rootbound plants will eventually come to the end of their life. 

Once the roots are properly loosened, you can put them in the larger pot first by layering your soil mixture at the bottom of the pot. 

Insert your plant on top of the soil then fill the edges with care. 

Give your plant a good watering and watch it enjoy all the new space it has! 

Your plant will most definitely appreciate you repotting it, especially if it's become very rootbound.

Remember that there is no need to repot most plants more than once a year and it's best to do so in the warmer months. 

So give it a try and let us know how it goes! 

P.S. Repotting time is the best time to install your moss pole! 

Installing your moss pole is so easy, watch us do it BLINDFOLDED! 

Talk soon and happy repotting! 

Mossify


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