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Should You Loosen Roots Before Planting

May 14, 2022

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You may be wondering whether it is necessary to loosen the roots of your plants before planting them into the ground. This can be a messy process and often involves breaking some of the roots, so do you need to do it, or not?

You should always loosen plant roots before you put a plant into a new container or the ground. This is because the roots have grown to the shape of their previous container, and may continue growing in that shape even once they have more space. Loosening them encourages them to branch out.

Loosening the roots has quite a few benefits for your plants, so let’s find out more!

Should You Loosen Roots Before Planting?

It is important to loosen the roots of your plant before you put the plant in the ground. You should do this for all plants except seedlings. You may occasionally see advice against this because it damages the roots, but it is still generally agreed that it’s beneficial overall.

It is true that when you break the roots, you are damaging the plant and reducing its ability to soak up water and nutrients in the short term. You may also cause some stress. However, this is generally considered worth doing, because it encourages the plant to adapt to the new environment.

Loosening the roots serves several different purposes, including:

  • The roots are encouraged to spread throughout the pot because they have more space
  • The roots will shape themselves to the new container, rather than conforming to the old one
  • More oxygen and soil can get to the roots in the center, making them more efficient

The most important of these is that the roots start spreading into the available space, because this will ensure that your plant is well anchored and that it uses all the resources you are making available to it. If your plant is very pot-bound, this is even more important.

What Is A Pot-Bound Plant?

A pot-bound plant is a plant that has been kept in one container for too long, with the result that the roots have conformed to the shape of the pot and grown into a dense mat over each other.

Often, pot-bound plants have more roots in the pot than they do soil, and they will quickly start to suffer if they are left this way. Loosening the roots will be crucial, or the plant may continue to grow in a confined space even though you have given it more space.

You may need to snap quite a lot of roots off to break up a root ball if your plant is badly pot-bound. Any that can be teased out and reshaped should be, but others will have to be snapped so the plant can resume its growth from a healthier position.

You do need to make sure that you aren’t removing too much root, because if you stress your plant out, it will struggle to grow. Normally, you can just break off the bottom few and then tease the rest into better positions.

Why Shouldn’t You Loosen Seedling Roots?

You don’t need to loosen seedling roots because they will not have a fixed structure that needs to be shaken up to account for the new environment. They are fragile and supple, and they will shape to the new soil just as easily as the old.

Seedlings can’t be pot-bound, so it’s generally pretty easy to transfer them to a new container. Trying to loosen the roots would result in breakages, which might kill your seedling, since it only has a few.


Loosening the roots of plants is a good idea, because it encourages your plant to spread its roots out in its new container. Try to avoid breaking off more roots than the plant can handle, however.


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