Grow Hack: Air-Prune to Stop Plants from Getting Root-Bound

Photo by Lochfoot

Check out this simple trick to prevent irregular growth and root suffocation due to an all-too-common issue in the garden—root-bound plants. This problem has a simple solution that lies in prevention, using a different kind of pot that stops roots from wrapping around their container and lets them focus on what they really need to be doing: absorbing water and nutrients.

If you let a young pot plant get root-bound before you transplant it, it may suffer from serious consequences in its “next life” in a new pot. Roots that have reached the edge of a container and start to wrap around it, forming a continuous surface of roots around the edge of the container, have trouble breaking free from this giant knot and growing into new soil.

Not only does growing into this crowded structure cause stress, but it can also cause the roots to tangle and constrict themselves as they try to break free. Best case scenario, this leads to slowed growth, while the very worst case can lead to a dead plant.

This is where air-pruning comes in to play.

Air-pruning is simply the practice of exposing the outer edge of your pot to air. Air will “prune” the roots be simply stopping them from approaching the side of the container, which focuses their growth to the middle of the pot. This encourages a branched root system, which most efficiently absorbs nutrients with microscopic roots that have room to associate with beneficial fungus mycorrhizae.

Any growbag will do, and some people even invest in pots that have small, specially designed holes on the side. Exposing the outer edges of the soil to oxygen, and maybe even the littlest bit of light, stops roots from growing too close to the edge and prevents them from getting root-bound. Growbags work grea,t but the trick is getting something you can reuse year-after-year to prevent waste. Solid pots with incorporated holes prevent this problem and are often found in the most cutting edge and well-endowed of growrooms.

You can invest in growbags, or even make DIY growbags made of fabric and put them in a pot with two-inch holes cut out every inch. Alternatively, some people stick their growbags in laundry baskets. There’s no reason why plastic crates wouldn’t work either. In any case, remember that the wider you allow your roots to grow, the wider your plant will get. If you want a plant that’s tall and thin, you need a tall and thin pot to match the root’s growth.

Roots don’t like too much oxygen or light. They need exposure to some oxygen, but they can “sense” excess oxygen and light in order to grow in the right direction—down! With air-pruning, pot roots develop healthy structures near the interior of the pot and don’t simply stick to the sides. A healthy structure in the interior prevents soil compaction and makes water and nutrients flow right where they are needed.

Ever notice how nurseries these days commonly sell their trees in growbags? People started to complain about young trees dying only a few years after purchase. Inspection of the dead roots uncovered that these poor trees became root-bound in the nursery waiting around for somebody to buy them and strangled themselves as they tried to grow out of that twisted root structure.

Don’t let this happen to your pot plants!

Even if they don’t die, inhibited growth means inhibited dollars; don’t waste your time and money on root-bound ganja trees, get to air-pruning!

Don’t miss our previous Grow Hack: This Microbe Can Actually Make Gardeners Feel Happy!

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