Pot Bound and Hydrophobic
We, like all of you, no doubt--have been dealing with pot-bound nursery plants for years. Sometimes its the result of a choice--such as the choice to buy end-of-season plants when they are marked down. :)
When we do this, we're always thrilled with the savings. But then it comes time to do the planting--and we all know what a chore that can be. Sometimes, it seems that you do "everything right" and you still lose the plant.
Until recently, I didn't know what one of the main problems is for pot-bound plants. Thanks to
(in my blog roll), I got myself educated. You might recognize the symptom--you water something in a pot and the water just goes rushing out the bottom of the pot. The rootball has become hydrophobic. Even if you place the plant in a deliciously-crafted hole with fabo additives and water the bejesus out of it--the plant may not be able to absorb the water and it will get absorbed by the surrounding soil, instead.
The solution is pretty simple. Soak the plant in water. Now Thomas, over at Grounded Design, recommends soaking the plant in a bucket of water until air bubbles no longer rise from the rootball. He also recommends using rainwater instead of city water, to avoid the chlorine damaging the already violated roots (which you are going to further violate, by the way). We went a little further with our latest acquisitions and let the plants soak overnight. I'll let you know if they croak by tomorrow.
After the soaking, you will find it much easier to loosen the rootball--a lovely side effect of the water bath. In the photos you see here, the first is of the soaked but still "tight" rootball. The second shows me using my rubber-handled former fishing knife to cut the matted roots off the bottom of the rootball. The third image (left) shows the rootball looking hairy because of pulling roots out from the sides so that they are ready to enter new dirt. And the final shot shows the plant plopped into its new home and getting soaked again before the soil is returned to the hole.
One other note--plants that have been sitting at the nursery awhile and getting watered from the hose can end up not only with an impenetrable mat of roots on the bottom of the rootball, but also on the top from the shallow watering. As you work roots loose around the rest of the plant, be sure to check for root mass at the top of the plant that needs loosening.
Water well and check frequently for the first couple of months!