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Will a Plant Survive if its Roots are Damaged? The Facts

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Roots provide anchors and support for plants. It also absorbs oxygen, water, and nutrients which are then carried to the rest of the plant via the xylem. Roots can be easily broken or severed during transplanting or when staking the soil.?

A plant can still survive if no more than 50% of its root system is damaged. The majority of a plant?s feeder roots grow within the first 2 to 4 inches of the soil. The feeder roots are smaller white roots that absorb the water and nutrients and if they are damaged, it can result in plant stress and nutrient deficiency.

Plants use roots not just for absorption of nutrients and water but also for support and oxygen absorption as well.?

After reading this article, you will be able to decipher the type of root system your plant has and if the plant will survive if its roots are damaged.?

How Long will a Plant Survive with Damaged Roots?

Cross Section of a Root (3)

The length of time a plant can survive with damaged roots depends on the extent of the damage and root loss. If more than 50% of a plant?s root is damaged, the plant will survive up to 5 days if not further care is taken to help revive the plant.

Plants need roots to absorb nutrients and water from the soil. This is done by the smaller white cuticles of roots (root hairs) that extend from the main root system.?

These white cuticles increase the root system’s surface area allowing for the maximum amount of nutrients to be absorbed. 

If your roots show signs of damage, you can use this high-performance, water-based rooting gel, which comes at a great price on Amazon. It has a full spectrum of mineral nutrients that promote root growth. 

HydroDynamics Clonex Rooting Gel

How to Revive a Plant with Broken Roots?

A plant with broken roots can be revived by firstly removing any dead or yellowing leaves from the foliage. This reduces the number of nutrients the plant would require and would demand less from the damaged root system.

Normally roots are broken during the transplanting process and the plant should be replanted in nutrient rich soil which has the right amount of amendments for optimal drainage and aeration.

In some other cases, as when transporting and shipping plants, the roots can be shaken to an extent that they can be broken.

When transplanting roots will get damaged especially if the plant has been rootbound. With damaged roots, a plant will survive indefinitely as long as the main root system is not damaged. These are the thicker, more established roots on the plant.

If the main root system is severed, you can clean the rest of the roots out and place the plant in water with rooting hormone. This will stimulate root growth and help revive the plant.

As discussed, most root damage occurs during transplanting and using safe transplanting practices is important in preventing root damage. Go to Tips for removal during transplanting further down in this article.

Types of Root Systems

Root systems in plants are the specialized patterns plants have adapted themselves by developing roots to access and obtain nutrients and water from the soil. 

Plants have mainly three types of root systems: 

  1. Taproots
  2. Fibrous roots
  3. Adventitious Roots


With the main taproot is larger and grows faster than the branch roots.

The Taproot system is the root system found in most dicotyledonous plants which have only one primary root.?

The radicle of the seed develops to form the primary root during the germination of the seed.


In this root system, the roots are about the same size and grow like a fibrous broom.?

A fibrous root system is universal in monocotyledonous plants.

A fibrous root system is the opposite of a taproot system. It is usually formed by thin, moderately branching roots growing from the stem.


The adventitious root system is the opposite of the taproot system. Adventitious roots grow from other parts of the plant except for the radicle or its branches.

These roots form on any plant part other than the base which goes into the soil.

Adventitious roots are plant roots that form from any non-root tissue and are produced both during normal development and in response to stress conditions, such as flooding, nutrient deprivation, and wounding.

These roots have a tendency to turn to be green as they can contain chloroplast or chlorophyll that can photosynthesize light and feed the plant. See our detailed post on green plant roots.

Plants and their Root systems

Tap Roots Fibrous RootsAdventitious Roots
Poison IvyTomatoesIvy
BeetrootLettuceBanyan figs
Rose plantCornSugar Cane
Sugar BeetLilies

How can Roots get Damaged?

Oftentimes when repotting, roots can get damaged from removal from the old pot if it’s not done correctly. Additionally, when the plant is removed from the pot, the process of freeing the old dirt from the root can also sever parts of the root system. In gardening, actions like weeding and staking can also sever roots from nearby plants.

It is important to minimize the damage caused to roots as it is the primary way that the plants get nutrients and water as previously explained.?

Plant Shock can occur when there is stress due to abrupt changes in the environment like changes in temperature, water stress, over-fertilizing, or drastic changes in light.

Transplanting can also cause plant shock and it is a very stressful process for any plant to endure as its root system is most vulnerable when exposed and not protected by a plant pot.

Therefore extra care must be taken during this time.

Tips for Safe Plant Removal when Transplanting

Water the Plant

Water the plant before removal for transplanting. You can simply water from the top or place the plant in a shallow bath of water (bottom watering). This ensures that all the soil is moist and when the plant is removed, the old soil can also be removed.

This method will work in both instances if you have a plant in a plastic pot or in a harder terracotta pot.

Squeeze the sides of the container

If you have a plant that is in a plastic pot or is still in the nursery pot that it came in, you can easily loosen the soil from the side of the walls of the planter by gently squeezing the sides. 

This ensures that when being removed, the plant comes out easily and the roots are not caught in the planter.

Do not hold the plant by the stem

Holding the plant by the stem for removal from the old pot can have the potential of removing the plant and severing the entire root system. 

After watering you can simply lay the plant down on its side and gently remove it from the old container without risk of root damage.

Freeing soil from container

Free the Soil from the Sides with a Long Knife

Using a long knife or stake you can insert it between the sides of the plant pot and soil to help loosen and free the plant from the potter.

This is done on the entire circumference of the pot to ensure that the soil mas is completely free from the potter for easy removal.

I use this Miracle-Gro Potting Mix from Amazon, which ensures my plants stay healthy long after repotting. Take a look and compare it to other potting mixes.

Miracle Grow Potting Mix

Symptoms Caused by Damaged Roots

The symptoms of damaged roots are directly related to nutrient deficiencies. These include sparse leaves, leaf wilting and browning, and branch dieback.

The plan will not be able to absorb nutrients from the soil at the rate that it normally would. As a result, with damaged roots, slow and stunted plant growth is characterized by root damage not exceeding 50%.

With greater than 50% root damage the plant will begin to wilt even if the nutrient and water in the soil is at its optimal level.?

Wilting is a sign that the plant is not getting enough water from the soil. 

Can Damaged Roots Still Absorb Nutrients?

Yes! Roots can still absorb nutrients at the point at which it is damaged. Main roots produce branch roots along its length and those also produce feeder roots. So if a root is damaged at a point it will still absorb nutrients from the part that is connected to the plant.

Plants require water to dissolve and dissociate the nutrients into soluble form in order for it to be absorbed into the plant.

Nutrient absorption is facilitated in roots by the action of root water differential. An increase in the difference in water concentration within the soil and in the roots will cause the roots to absorb water which is then transported to the leaves of the plant by the xylem.

As long as there are roots fully connected to the plant water and nutrient absorption will still occur, but at a much slower rate.

Will Damaged Roots Heal and Grow back?

Roots will regrow if damaged or severed. The uptake of water and nutrients is restricted, reducing growth. However, the new growth will not continue in the same direction that it was growing.?

Instead, new roots will grow from the part that was not broken or damaged like a branch of a tree.

Cell division will continue to occur in the new roots, but you will have to give the plant time to adapt and rehabilitate itself.

Can the Removal of Aerial Roots Harm a plant?

Aerial roots are roots that grow on the above-ground parts of a plant. Aerial roots on woody vines function as anchors, affixing the plant to supporting structures such as rocks, and walls.

Some types of aerial roots also absorb moisture and nutrients, just like underground roots.

Plants like monstera deliciosa produce aerial roots in addition to roots in the soil for support as they grow. 

If the aerial roots from your Monstera Deliciosa are broken or removed, it will not damage the plant and the roots will grow back in no time.

Additionally, aerial roots on indoor philodendrons aren’t really necessary and you can snip them if you find them unsightly.

How Long can Plant Roots be Exposed?

Plants can survive between 1 to 10 days out of soil before it starts to show signs of stress.

The length of time a plant will survive also depends on the type of plant in question. 

Plants that store food in its roots, as opposed to thin, fibrous roots, can last longer out of soil.

Succulents, Air plants and Orchids are low water tolerant plants and can survive for very weeks without water and soil.

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