It happens so regularly that you would think we’d grow used
to it. A procedure that was drilled into our heads as being essential to a
plant’s survival turns out to actually be harmful. For example, remember when
experts told us to protect
tree wounds with putty? Now that’s considered detrimental to the tree’s
The latest horticultural flipflop among scientists involves
how to handle roots when you transplant container trees. Many experts now
recommend root washing before planting. What is root washing? Read on for all
the information you need to understand the root washing method.
What is Root Washing?
If you haven’t heard of or don’t understand root washing,
you’re not alone. It’s a relatively new idea that container
grown trees will be healthier if you wash all of the soil from their roots
before you transplant them.
Most of us were instructed firmly and repeatedly not to
touch the root
ball of a container tree during transplant. Botanists explained that the
roots are delicate and touching them can break the smaller ones. While this is
still considered true, the current view is that you can do more damage if you
don’t wash soil from the tree roots before you plant.
About Root Washing Trees
Root washing trees is one of the only ways you can tell, before
it’s too late, that your new container tree is root bound, meaning that the
roots grow in a circle around the inside of the pot. Many root
bound trees are never able to sink their roots into the soil of their new
planting location and, ultimately, die from lack of water and nutrition.
The root washing method resolves this by using a hose
to dislodge all of the soil in a tree’s root ball before planting. Washing tree
roots with a strong spray of water gets most of the soil off but you can use
your fingers for any clumps that don’t dissolve.
Once the roots are “naked,” you can determine if the roots
grow in a circular pattern and, if so, cut them out. While the roots will be
shorter and take longer to develop, they will be able to grow into the soil of
the planting location.
Other Benefits of Washing Tree Roots
Root washing before planting accomplishes more than one
beneficial end. Getting rid of any circular roots can save the tree’s life, but
there are other advantages as well – planting at the correct depth, for
The perfect planting height is at the root
flare. If you wash the soil off the tree’s root ball, you can determine for
yourself the proper depth at which the young tree should be planted. Experts
have long told us to set the new tree into the ground at the same depth as it
was planted in the pot. What if the nursery got it wrong though?
Nurseries are notoriously busy and when it comes to getting
a young seedling’s depth correct, they just cannot invest a lot of time. They
may simply pop the little root ball into a bigger pot and add soil. If you get
into the habit of washing tree roots before planting, you can see the root
flare for yourself, the place where the upper roots leave the trunk.
“What Is Root Washing – Learn About Washing Tree Roots” was first posted here