Root bound plants are also called pot bound plants. These plants require repotting because of the lack of space that is created by the roots’ congestion and overgrowth.
Root bound plants have a root ball that adopts the container’s shape, while others replace the pot’s soil with their coiled root. Root bound is a condition that does not allow the plant to receive enough water, air, and nutrients, causing a wide range of problems.
Unlike the root system of other plants that spread out like the tree branches, a root-bound plant clusters its roots into a dense tangle. The high root-to-soil ratio causes wilting, smaller or yellow leaves, and stunted growth.
Being root bound is not always a favorable condition for a plant and we are going to explain how to safely remove and repot a root-bound plant as well as what to expect when a plant is in this state.
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What does the Term Root Bound Mean
There are various definitions of the term root bound.
However, the most accepted definition is: a root bound plant is a condition that causes the plant’s roots to become dense, cluttered, and tangled due to lack of space for further growth.
A plant with a severe root bound condition often requires a person to break the container to remove it.
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What Plants Like to be Root Bound
Although most root bound plants undergo a wide range of problems, some plants like to be root bound.
In this section, I will talk about these plants and tell you why they like to be root bound. Read on!
A Peace Lily
A peace lily produces beautiful and healthy flowers if it is root-bound.
If you want to move it to a larger pot, make sure the diameter is no more than 10mm than the previous container.
A peace lily will undergo the root rot problem if there is more soil in the container.
Like peace lilies, spider plants have the best growth and development when they are root bound.
However, spider plants usually grow faster, meaning you have to repot them before they crack their pots.
Do not remove the plant until you see the roots are above the soil. Although these plants are pot-bound, they require repotting after some time.
Snake plants like to be root-bound, meaning you don’t need to frequently repot them into larger containers.
However, when the roots creep through the pot’s drainage holes, you should repot your snake plant into a larger pot.
A jade plant usually prefers to be root bound in a small container.
When you keep these plants root bound, they will grow smaller, meaning you can easily manage them.
However, it is crucial to repot your jade plants at least once every 2-3 years to encourage proper growth.
Once repotted, you must not water the plant for at least one week.
Hoya is another plant that likes to be root bound.
Because these plants grow as epiphytes and prefer moist conditions, you must not repot them until you see the roots tangle or wrap around the container’s inside.
Likewise, if your Hoya plant needs more water, then repot it.
Aloe Vera is an excellent houseplant because it likes to be root bound.
Even if your Aloe Vera plants get bigger for its pot, moving it is not that urgent.
However, when it gets root bound, you should repot it after some time.
Boston ferns do not prefer large containers for their size.
However, these plants become pot-bound as their roots develop and grow.
In most cases, Boston ferns do not transplant well. It means if you transplant a root bound Boston fern, you will damage the plant.
Sometimes, it causes the plant to die after transplantation.
Philodendron and pothos also like to keep their roots densely tangled in their pots.
These plants need properly draining soil to prevent the problem of root rot.
Provide philodendron or pothos with potting soil and make sure there is no extra space in the containers.
That way, you can avoid root rot.
Succulents make excellent houseplants because they don’t need repotting.
Because these plants have a shallow root system, it is crucial not to move or repot them.
However, when you see the roots coming through the container, you should repot them.
Make sure you allow the soil to dry out before you water these plants.
The purpose is to prevent root rot and other problems.
Plants that Don’t Like to be Root Bound
Many plants that are too large for their pots tend to tip over. Additionally, the soil can dry quickly in a small container, requiring you to water your plants frequently.
Your plant can become root bound and suffer problems like yellow leaves, stunted growth, and no flowers.
Although most plants do not like to be root bound, some won’t survive without repotting.
For example, one such plant is monstera deliciosa, which does not like to be root bound.
Growing this plant in a small container means not having enough nutrients, water, and oxygen.
If you have monstera deliciosa, make sure you move it to a larger container every two years.
That way, your plant will survive by having enough space to expand their roots.
At the same time, your monstera deliciosa will grow healthy foliage.
Zanzibar Gem plants do not prefer to be root bound.
These plants grow large rhizomes under the ground, which take more space inside the planter.
Make sure you repot the plant every 2-3 years into one size larger pot than the previous one.
A Laceleaf plant requires bright lighting, moist air, and well-drained soil.
Although these plants do not prefer to be moved frequently, they can become root bound, leading to damages.
Therefore it is better to repot the plant in a slightly larger container than the previous one.
Weeping fig is another plant that does not like to be root bound.
These are temperamental plants and do not tolerate stress, meaning they will drop their leaves and undergo other negative changes if root bound.
Therefore, it is wise to repot your weeping fig before it gets root bound to avoid problems.
Maranta is a beautiful houseplant that requires a wide, shallow pot with drainage holes in the bottom.
Because Maranta has fine and shallow roots, it is more prone to root rot.
Thus, you should repot it before it becomes root bound. Maranta Leuconeura certainly does not prefer to be root bound.
Summary of Plants that Like and Don’t like Being Root Bound
|Can be Left Root Bound||Cannot be Left Root Bound|
|Peace Lily||Monstera Deliciosa|
|Spider Plant||Zanzibar Gem|
|Jade Plant||Weeping Fig|
How Long Should You Leave a Plant Before Repotting?
It is crucial to move your house plant into a large pot as it grows.
If there is not enough space for the plant’s roots, it will become pot-bound or root-bound.
As a result, the plant’s roots will become cramped and develop a densely packed cluster, preventing it from proper growth.
Most often, plants require repotting every 12-18 months, depending on their active growth.
Some plants have slow growth, and you can keep them in the same pot for many years.
However, the important thing to keep in mind is replenishing the soil frequently.
Experts recommend repotting your plants in the early spring season for their proper growth. Wait at least 7-10 days when it comes to watering your plant. The purpose is to heal the root damages during repotting.
Keep your plant in a cool, shady spot during the recovery period.
How to Remove a Root-bound Plant from the Pot?
If you want to keep your plant healthy and strong, make sure you repot it at the right time.
Avoid waiting too long because the root system will become dense and cluttered, causing various damages.
The most common sign of a root bound plant is the roots coming through the bottom drainage holes.
In this section, I will tell you how to remove a root bound plant from its container. Continue reading!
Tip: Spring is the best time to remove your root-bound plant from the container.
During the spring season, the plant tends to have higher energy levels and growth speed.
That’s why you should wait until the spring.
If you transplant the plant in autumn or winter, your plant will take a long time to rehabilitate itself in the new container.
Tip: Water the pot before you remove the root-bound plant.
Supply enough water to the soil so that it receives enough moisture and becomes wet.
Make sure the excess moisture excretes from the bottom drainage holes.
The purpose of watering the pot is to soften the soil and root ball of the plant, leading to easy removal.
Tip: Avoid grabbing your houseplant and pulling it out of the container.
Doing so will cause damage to leaves and stems. The removing process requires careful planning and preparation.
Place your hand around the base of the plant at the soil level.
Now, use your other hand to turn the container upside down.
The gravitational force will naturally slide out the plant from its container.
If the plant does not come out easily, you should tap the container against a nursery table or any other hard surface.
How to Re-Pot a Root-Bound Plant
There are various signs and symptoms that indicate the plant needs repotting.
For example, if the roots grow through the planter’s drainage holes, it is time to repot the plant.
You can wait for other signs to appear, such as roots pushing your plant up, out of the container.
Another sign that the plant has become root bound is slower growth.
When your plant is heavy at the top and falls over quickly or dries quicker than normal, you should repot your plant.
The accumulation of salt and minerals in the container also indicates that your plant needs repotting.
Repotting is the only way to fix a root bound plant.
Here are the steps to pot or repot a root bound plant.
Step 1: Remove Your Plant from the Existing Container
I have already explained the removal process above.
If you want to remove your plant from the current pot accurately, make sure you turn the plant sideways.
Hold the plant gently by its leaves or stems and then tap the upside-down container against a solid surface to slide out the plant.
Step 2: Loosen the Plant’s root with your Hands
The second step is to loosen your plant’s roots. Use your hands and apply a gentle force to loosen the roots.
If the roots are longer, you can prune them off. Remember, you must not cut the thicker roots at the foliage base.
Unbind the roots of your root-bound plant to achieve the best trim.
Step 3: Remove the Old Potting Mix
You can remove the entire old potting mix or one-third of it.
The reason is that your plant removed nutrients from the existing potting mix during its growth.
You need to remove the old mix to supply your plant with the fresh blend for more nutrients and minerals.
Step 4: Add Fresh Potting Mix
Repotting requires you to have a new planter or container. Fill the fresh potting mix or soil into the new container.
Make sure you remove the air pockets. It is important to have drainage holes at the bottom of the new container.
If there are no holes, you can layer the bottom with gravel, rocks, or lava rocks before adding the new soil.
Step 5: Add your Root-Bound Plant
Place your plant into the new pot that contains the fresh soil mix.
Make sure you place the plant in the center of the container.
After placing the plant, add more potting mix into the container to hold the plant upright.
Do not add a lot of soil into the container as it will prevent the root from inhaling fresh oxygen.
Wait for at least seven or ten days before you water the soil in the new container.
That way, you give the plant enough time to heal any damages it endeavored during the removal process.
See how to use soil amendments to get the best potting mix here
Will the Plant grow Bigger in a Bigger pot?
The plant will tend to grow larger in a bigger pot as the roots will have additional space to spread out and absorb more nutrients which will in turn, promote growth.
Repotting in a bigger pot will provide the plant with more nutrients and aeration from fresh soil. Also, the larger spacing will cause the roots to spread out in search of food.
Will being Root Bound Prevent Further Plant Growth?
Although some plants like to be root bound, many of them would undergo harmful changes.
For instance, root-bound plants will quickly undergo wilting, have brown or yellow leaves, and experience stunted growth.
Wilting negatively affects the plant’s ability to develop and grow.
It causes reduced transpiration, eventually leading to its death.
A severely root-bound plant has a more challenging time in the container, causing the roots to push out through the drainage holes.
Moreover, a root-bound condition is harmful to your plant because it won’t anchor property, reducing the chances of proper growth and transpiration.
When your plant’s roots take over the space inside the pot, there is less room for the soil to contain water, leading to the roots death.
Not only will root bound prevent the plant from getting enough nutrients, but it will also stunt its growth and eventually cause death.
Therefore, it is necessary to remove the root-bound plant from its existing container and place it in a relatively larger pot.
Should you Encourage Plants to Become Root-bound
As mentioned earlier, some plants like to be root-bound.
However, too much root bounding can cause significant harm to most plants.
Overgrown or densely clustered roots means they won’t get enough water or nutrients.
Therefore, it is wise to prevent your plant from becoming root bound.
A root-bound plant is often unhealthy because the roots replace the potting mix.
The densely tangled roots can put significant stress on the plant, depriving the roots, leaves, and stems from receiving enough oxygen, water, and nutrients.
Therefore, you must remove the root bound plant and repot it in a larger container to expand the roots for proper growth and development.
Will Excess Watering Cause Root Rot
Excess water is the leading cause of root suffocation. It can cause your plant’s roots to rot quickly.
Excess water will damage the roots, make the leaves yellow or brown, drop the leaves, and cause the stems to become soggy at the base.
Bear in mind that overwatering somewhat occurs naturally and over time, meaning if you give too much water at one time, it won’t cause root rot.
However, if you continue to overwater your plant, it will harm the plant.
For instance, if you have succulents or cacti, make sure you dry the soil entirely before you apply the water.
Most tropical house plants require dryness of the top half of the soil before watering.
If you have ferns or any other moisture-loving plants, make sure you dry the soil’s top before re-applying the water.
An alternative to watering conventionally is to simply mist the plant. This prevent overwatering and fungal diseases associated with it.
See how to correctly mist plants in our detailed article here
Should the Roots Be Pruned?
Root pruning is essential for potted plants, especially when their roots have outgrown the pots.
If you don’t want to move your plant to a larger container, it is wise to prune the roots.
Experts recommend roots trimming and supplying fresh soil to keep the plant nourished.
Besides, loosening the roots before you repotting the plant in a new container is very beneficial.
It allows the plant to spread its roots in all directions. That way, the roots branch out in the container and receive enough nutrients and oxygen from the soil.
Loosening the roots is an excellent method for all plants, especially for the pot-bound or root-bound plants.
Can a Plant Die from being Root Bound?
Bounded roots can stifle a plant preventing the uptake of oxygen and nutrients as the soil around the roots become severely depleted and the air spaces become non-existent.
The roots will function as normal and continue to absorb whatever little oxygen and nutrients that it could.
The plant will eventually die as it grows and it’s essential growing resources decrease.
As a result the plant will firstly show signs of stunted growth followed by nutrient deficiencies until it dies.
Can a Root Bound Plant Recover?
A root bound plant can recover with intervention such as repotting.
The compact roots of the plant can be loosened during transplanting into a bigger pot which gives it space to grow and resume its normal functions.
After the plant is reported it should be gently watered as a light fertilizer is applied to give the plant that much-needed boost.
Some houseplants prefer to be root bound for their optimal growth and development, while others require repotting to avoid undergoing significant harms, such as stunted growth, yellowing of leaves, etc.
It is crucial to repot your plant when you notice the root-bound signs and symptoms.