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Plant Roots Showing: Here’s How To Fix It


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Plant roots will begin to show as the root system grows out in search of nutrients within the soil. The root grows out so much that it can lead the plant into problems such as being root-bound and show signs of nutrient deficiencies.

The roots of a plant will begin to show when it gets too large for the plant pot. This is because the plant has grown to a size that the roots grow out in search of nutrients. The roots eventually fill the pot and start showing at the top and through the drainage holes. Repotting the plant fixes this problem.

Are your plant roots showing? This is normal for some plants, especially orchids. However, for certain plants, it can be an alarming sign of distress.

I am ashamed that this also happens to my plants at times. See a picture of my potted key lime tree at the end of this article.

In this article, we are going to explain what causes potted plant roots to show as well as what you can do to fix the problem.

After reading, you will be able to carry out the corrective steps to ensure that your plant is repotted correctly after such symptoms.

If you are going to repot your plant, there are many good soil options out there but I have found this potting soil made by Miracle-Gro from amazon to be most affordable and effective in keeping my plants healthy long after repotting.
You can find it by clicking here.

What Causes Roots To Show?

What causes plant Roots to show

There is a range of reasons that can cause your plant roots to come out of the soil and in some cases when exposed to light the roots can become green as they are covered with algae.

See our detailed article on how light affects plant roots.

The following causes might be one of the main culprits causing your roots to come out of the potting soil. 

1. Small Plant Pot

Firstly, your container or pot may be too small for the plant you are growing in it. This cause may seem obvious, but beginner gardeners often fail to look after the right pot size for the right plant. 

This leads the plant to eventually become rootbound. The small pot size creates a barrier for roots to expand to their full size. 

Now, What is Rootbound?

All plants (including vegetables and flowers) need enough space to grow their roots properly. Therefore, if the containers in which you are growing plants are short, plants may not get enough space for the growth of their roots. 

The term rootbound means that the plant roots have grown to an extent such that it takes up the majority of space within the pot and creates a dense web of roots. When removed, the roots maintain the shape of the pot, hugging the soil in place.

Right Time to Repot:

If the roots are overcrowded–that is, if you can see bundles of roots and just a little soil–it’s the right time to transfer your plant into a larger, bigger pot.

Follow our detailed guide on removing old soil from roots when repotting.

2. Compacted Soil

Secondly, the soil in the pot might be too closely compacted, such as heavy clay or containing rocks or other obstacles that block the roots from growing easily through the soil.

3. Nutrient Deficient Soil

In addition to small plant pots and compact soil, nutrients deficiency in the potting soil can also cause roots to come out of the soil.

When plant roots don’t get enough nutrients in the potting soil or when all the nutrients present in the soil get absorbed by the plant, roots will move out of the pot, in search of nutrients. 

4. Environmental Factors

Last but not the least, there could be environmental factors causing deep root growth. For instance, if the pot is on a surface that generates too much heat, the roots may try to grow where the soil is cooler. 

Furthermore, watering the plants shallowly can also cause the roots to come out. Keep in mind that the roots grow where the moisture is present.

This is why experts prefer to water a yard or flower bed deeply and infrequently than to water it shallowly and very often.

How Long Can a Plant Remain Rootbound?

On average, a plant can remain root-bound for 2 months with a continuous supply of nutrients to the soil. A root-bound plant will take up most of the space within the plant pot leaving a small amount of soil bounded by the roots. Nutrients will now have to be supplied to the plant to keep it alive.

A healthy plant can remain rootbound if there is enough nutrients being supplied on a regular basis. This can buy you time until you can repot the plant.

Some plants (e.g., spider plant, umbrella tree) vigorously grow with rootbound situations. While some plants may urgently need your assistant to save them from rootbound problems. 

See our detailed post on plants that like to be rootbound.

How To Repot a Plant in The Right Way?

Is your plant battling with the rootbound issue? Well, it’s the perfect time to transfer your plant into another bigger pot. Now the question that people often ask us is how to repot a rootbound plant properly so that it can thrive further. 

  1. First, get a new pot about two inches bigger than your current pot (if your plant is in a 4” pot, get a 6” pot). 
  1. Second, buy some fresh potting soil mix that is appropriate for your plants, like well-drained soil for succulents and cacti, or you can probably use all-purpose soil. 
  1. Thirdly, add new soil to the new pot. Fill the bottom up to 2” to 3”.
  1. Then, lift your plant and, from the bottom, gently tear into the roots in a cross pattern up to a few inches, don’t cut up straight.
  1. Next, carefully place your plant on top of the new soil in the pot and fill in space on the sides (don’t tamp it down too much).
  1. Sprinkle some water to let the soil settle properly. You can add more later. 

Note: Newly potted plants should be watered lightly and allowed to rest to help with transplanting shock

Plant roots showing

Common Repotting Mistakes To Avoid:

Many gardeners make some mistakes when repotting the plants which should be avoided to have a healthy plant in your garden. 

Always keep the following mistakes in mind to avoid the next time you report your plants: 

1. Unnecessarily repotting the plant

Remember, in larger pots, the water gets completely absorbed by the soil before even reaching the roots.

2. Potting into something too large

It’s always best to repot into something only an inch or two larger, especially for plants (e.g., English ivy, pothos, hoya, succulents) that are slow growers or prefer a tight container.

3. Planting too deeply

You should be able to see the original soil surface after repotting. Burying the stems too deep usually causes them to die because they have a different cell structure than roots. 

Keep the soil level the same. All new soil goes beside and under the root ball.

4. Not leaving space at the top of the pot

If you fill the pot up to the top, water will run through the pot and will not get enough time to get absorbed till roots. 

For small plants, pot up so that about 1/2″ to 1″ of space remains between the soil and the rim of the pot.

5. Using dirty pots

Some plants are so sensitive to fungi and bacteria present in old or dirty pots that they can die. Clean the pots well with a 10% bleach solution before using them for repotting. 

My Potted Key Lime Tree Roots Showing

This is a picture of my potted key lime tree that I had for over three years. The container was getting a bit too small and the root system began to overcrowd the pot.

However, when I repotted the plant, it grew even larger and produced even more fruit. It goes to show that plants do really have a way of telling us that they are stressed and need some attention.

See how I potted this key lime tree.

Roots Everywhere

The Takeaway

A plant’s root will begin to show in a plant pot for four reasons, the plant is root bound, the pot is too small, the soil is too compact or other environmental conditions which limit the nutrients within the soil.

The roots will start to show from either the top of the soil or it can be seen coming through the drainage holes from the bottom of the plant pot.

The most effective solution in fixing the problem is repotting. Repotting the plant can give the roots the space and soil it needs so it can have access to nutrients and oxygen.

However, there are some common problems to avoid when repotting to ensure that you are doing it right, all of which we have elaborated on, in this article.

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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