What Does Root Bound Mean?

what does root bound mean

Root-Bound, also known as pot-bound plants, is a severe issue for houseplants that might not be apparent at first glance. Plant roots act as a way to gather nutrients from the soil and absorb the water for the plant. When the root system doesn’t have adequate space to perform its role, the plant will become stunted in growth. Severe root-bound cases where the roots circle the plant will eventually kill it.


So what are the potential signs of root-bound, and how do you fix it? Are there any plants that enjoy being root bound? Keep reading to understand everything about root-bound plants!


What Happens if my Plant is Root Bound?

what happens if my plant is root bound

A root-bound plant might not be evident at first as an issue. However, over time, you will notice that the plant is not performing well during the growing season. The plant might start experiencing signals that something is wrong, like yellowing leaves, even if you give it the right growing conditions.


Another issue with root-bound plants is root rot. Root rot is a common issue when there is too much water at the bottom of the container, and the plant can’t absorb it. When you have roots sticking out of the bottom of the container, it can trap the excess water from escaping and drown the plant over time.


To ensure your plant doesn’t have root-bound issues, you should know what the signs look like.


What are the Signs of Root Bound on a Houseplant?

Some of the signs of root-bound are more obvious than others. Purchasing a plant with serious root-bound issues can cause problems with new growth. Here are some tips to consider when examining a plant before buying it from the store.


Roots Sticking out of the Bottom of the Pot

roots sticking out of the bottom of the pot

Roots sticking out of the drainage hole of a container is the most apparent sign of root-bound. If possible, you should remove the plant from the container at a store and examine the root ball. Roots sticking through the potting soil at the bottom of the container means that the pot needs to go into a larger container. Also, a root ball the size of the container means it will need a bigger pot to keep growing.


Also, if the plant is in a container with no drainage holes, you will want to replace that immediately. No drainage holes will cause root rot, so it is best to correct that early.


Roots Sticking out of the Topsoil

In extreme cases, you will see roots sticking out of the topsoil. When roots stick out of the topsoil, that signals they have nowhere else to go. Roots sticking out of the topsoil are usually the last sign that the plant won’t sustain itself since it grows out of the current home.


Roots Circling the Soil

roots circling the soil

Sticking with the roots, you want to examine the potted plant’s soil. If you see roots circling the soil tightly, that signals that the roots are making their way up the soil. Tightly bound roots are the stage before the roots stick out of the top ground.


Yellowing Leaves

yellow leaves

Another sign of potential root-bound is older leaves yellowing or falling off the plant. Along with yellowing leaves, you will notice that new leaves won’t be as big as they should be. Typically speaking, the mature leaves at the top of the plant will be smaller in size than the leaves closer to the ground.


Hard to Remove from the Container

Finally, a sign that root bound might be occurring is if it is difficult to remove the plant from the container. One way to check is to flip the plant upside down to see if the plant moves or can slide out of the container. If you shake the plant and it still won’t come out of the container, you know you need to remove it with tools. The requirement of tools signals that this plant will need a new home and a bigger container.


Can you Fix Root Bound Plants?

can you fix root bound plants

To fix root-bound plants, you will need to repot the plant in a larger container. One tip is to perform root pruning, which means using a sharp knife or shears to cut off any unnecessary roots before placing them in a new container. Cutting off the excess roots and placing them in a new pot will promote healthy root growth.


When you repot the plant, you will want a pot two inches bigger than the previous home. You want the plant to be in a bigger container than before, but you don’t want to give it too much space. Giving the plant too much space might cause problems with absorbing nutrients and keeping the plant upright if the roots can’t fully settle.


Finally, you should use fresh soil in the new container for the plant. Using a new potting mix is a great way to give your plant a fresh start to grow naturally in the new home with the best conditions. Giving fresh soil can also stimulate new growth, especially if you add some fertilizer to the mix.


Do Some Plants like to be Root Bound?

do some plants like to be root bound

A spider plant, snake plant, and jade plant all enjoy being root-bound since that promotes the most growth for them. A sign that these plants have root bound is if they begin growing much more significant and faster for their container. If you notice that overgrowth, you will need to put them in a bigger container to continue to grow.


Conclusion: What Does Root Bound Mean?

In summary, root-bound occurs when the roots of a plant are outgrowing the current container. When the roots don’t have anywhere to go, they can cause problems for most plants with root rot, stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and ultimately killing them. While some plants enjoy having their roots tight, most plants don’t. If you can sense something is off with the plant, you should examine the roots.


Next time you go to your garden center, be sure to look for potential signs of root-bound before you buy!


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