Most plants can recover from tight roots after they have been planted as long as they are not completely root bound. It is usually better to leave the plant where it is once it has been planted for longer than a week. Hardy plants like palms, grasses, plants grown from rhizomes or succulents can be dug up and the roots loosened if they were very tight before planting.
Most of the time it is best to leave the plant in the ground even if you have forgotten to loosen the root ball before planting. Young plants in particular are able to send out new root shoots in the right direction if they are planted in good soil and watered well.
Some sensitive plants can suffer if they are moved after planting. Plants with a main tap root, including large trees will grow better if they are left in the ground instead of being dug up.
This article will explore what to do if you have forgotten to loosen the root ball on your plant before planting and how to give it the best chance of recovery.
What to do if you have forgotten to loosen the root ball before planting
Most plants will be fine if to be left in the ground if you have forgotten to loosen the root ball. Many plants actually benefit from their roots being left alone and allowed to find their own growth pattern once in the ground.
If the plant was very root bound or have tightly knitted roots before planting then there are times that you can dig the plant up and tease the roots.
1. If the plant is hardy
Hardy plants without tender roots can be dug up and the roots teased out. Only do this if the roots were very bound and tight before planting. Hardy plants that can be dug up include bird of paradise, grasses such as mondo, dianella and lomandra.
Other plants that can survive being dug up and the roots teased include daisies, hardy palms such as golden cane and
I have even dug up annuals such as pansies, violas and dianthus and teased the roots gently. If they have been in the ground for less than a week, they will be fine.
2. If the root ball was very tight
Consider digging the plant up if the root ball was very root bound and tight. Plants will usually not recover well if their roots have wound around the base and sides of the plant.
I transplanted some very root bound bird of paradise plants which needed heavy root trimming. These large, water filled roots can quickly recover from trimming. They are even producing flowers in the next season.
3. If the plant was transplanted 3 days ago
If plants have only just been put in the ground then they will not have had time to send their roots out t establish. Vigorous large trees with tap roots should not be moved, but small shrubs or plants growing from rhizomes like bananas and rhubarb will be fine.
These plants can be lifted and their roots gently teased out. Most of the time these plants will thrive anyway but if you have planted a very tightly root bound plant, then tease the roots slightly to give it the best chance possible to thrive.
What happens if you don’t loosen the root ball?
If you don’t loosen the root ball on a plant with a healthy root system before transplanting into the ground or a pot, most of the time it will not make any difference. Unless the plant is very tightly root bound, most will recover, extend their root systema and establish well.
Make sure the soil is well prepared with compost to lighten it, add extra air pockets and organic matter. This will allow the new roots to push through and stabilize the plant.
It is important to loosen roots of plants before transplanting if the roots have formed a tight net on the outside of the pot, if they have started to wind around the bottom of the pot or if they have started to grow significantly out of the drainage holes.
Do you have to loosen the roots before planting?
It is always a good idea to check the base of the roots before planting it out into a pot or in the ground. Most plants will benefit from a gentle tease of the roots when you get it out of the pot. If the roots have not yet reached the bottom of the pot or if there is excess soil, then you don’t need to tease them.
What happens if you don’t untangle roots when repotting?
If plants roots have started to wind around the plant pot they can continue to wind around or stay stuck together while they are in the ground. Very root bound plants can stay that way when planted out. The plant will never grow to its full potential and can struggle to absorb the water and nutrients it needs.
If you have planted a very root bound plant in the ground without teasing the roots you can dig it up if the plant is struggling, if the plant is hard and is not reliant on a tap root. Most palms, shrubs and annuals can be dug up and the roots teased.
Forgot to Loosen Root Ball Before Planting | Summary
Most of the time it is fine to leave plants in the ground if you have forgotten to loosen the root ball. Young plants in particular can rapidly grow new roots to replace or extend the old ones to get the nutrients and water they need.
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.