Gardening Ideas forum: Using plastic forks to tease rootbound roots

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Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
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joannakat
Sep 24, 2017 9:42 AM CST
How many time have you bought a nice-looking plant, usually at a discounted price, only to find that it's highly rootbound in it's pot? I've learned the hard way that if you transplant it without teasing out the roots, the roots will continue to grow in the previous pot's shape and nutrition will be at least somewhat blocked out. The result is a plant that struggles to grow and never flourishes.

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So how do you gently tease out the roots so that the plant can become strong and gorgeous?

Try using plastic forks! Plastic forks can be a lot gentler than metal ones. You're virtually assured of using them gently because if you apply too much pressure, they'll break (how much depends on the type you're using).

Starting at the underside, gently push the tines into the tangled roots and then gently rotate the fork back and forth to loosen the tangle.

As the roots begin to separate, you can dig in further, but only a bit at a time.

Thumb of 2017-09-24/joannakat/435eec Thumb of 2017-09-24/joannakat/e34e79

As things loosen up, you can move up the sides and gently pull the roots outward until the they're free and pliable.

Thumb of 2017-09-24/joannakat/1c1917

This is when they're ready to be planted into their new pot or the ground. Be sure to spread the roots out nicely and water in place!

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AKA Joey.
Name: josephine
Arlington, Texas (Zone 8a)
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frostweed
Sep 24, 2017 10:12 AM CST
Very good Joanna. Smiling
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Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Sep 24, 2017 11:24 AM CST
Good idea but I use a regular stainless steel fork. Plastic is not strong enough for my needs.
I find that soaking the root ball beforehand makes the job a bit easier...messy, yes, but easier.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
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joannakat
Sep 24, 2017 11:51 AM CST
greene said:Good idea but I use a regular stainless steel fork. Plastic is not strong enough for my needs.
I find that soaking the root ball beforehand makes the job a bit easier...messy, yes, but easier.


Wow, you must be working with some horribly rootbound plants! Good for you for saving them!
AKA Joey.
Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
My dogs love me; some people don't.
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greene
Sep 24, 2017 11:52 AM CST
I have had plants that were so root-bound they needed to be attacked with a machete!!
That was my Alpinia nutans.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Frenchy
Falls Church, VA (Zone 7b)
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Frenchy21
Sep 24, 2017 1:25 PM CST
Great idea Joanna with small new plants. I tend to use my fingers but I'm sure the plastic forks cause less damage. Sticking tongue out
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
Sep 25, 2017 9:34 PM CST
Interesting!

I've always just cut through the roots (top to bottom) in 3-4 places with something like a steak knife -- the cut roots are stimulated to produce new growth.
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[Last edited by Weedwhacker - Sep 25, 2017 9:34 PM (+)]
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Name: Lin
Florida Zone 9b, 10a

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plantladylin
Sep 26, 2017 6:14 AM CST
Great idea Joanna! I keep an old stainless dinner fork in my plant supplies for this purpose and like greene, I sometimes have to soak the root ball first.
~ Playing in the dirt is my therapy ... and I'm in therapy a lot! ~


Name: Frank Richards
Clinton, Michigan

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frankrichards16
Sep 27, 2017 3:57 PM CST
I usually use a razor knife, not so gentle:)
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Greenhouse Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Enjoys or suffers cold winters Butterflies Birds
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Weedwhacker
Sep 27, 2017 6:35 PM CST
frankrichards16 said:I usually use a razor knife, not so gentle:)


Good to know I'm not alone with that technique, Frank! Big Grin
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