Untangling pot-bound tomato roots

“Green Thumb” Tip: Release those pot-bound roots!

Have you met Woodland Gnome? I am a great fan of her Forest Garden blog where she shares her gardening experiences along with photos of her wonderful plants. Woodland Gnome recently suggested the idea of “Green Thumb” Tips, for fellow gardeners to share their helpful hints with others – be they beginners or experienced gardeners. She said,

“Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.”

Woodland Gnome, Forest Garden

“What a good idea!” I thought.

The next day, I happened to be potting up some rather pot-bound tomato plants. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but other garden tasks had been keeping me occupied … such as dealing with rabbit problems! (If you’ve not seen my bean-plant-nibbling bunny story, you can find it here.)

I was potting up my tomatoes out of their original upcycled yogurt pots where I’d sown them and into large buckets of growbag compost. The tomato plants will then remain in their large buckets in the greenhouse to flower and hopefully produce tasty fruit as the Summer progresses.

Dealing with pot-bound tomato plant roots
Pot-bound tomato plant roots on the right. Loosened tomato plant roots on the left.

When I turned out the first tomato plant from its upcycled pot, I could see how the roots had begun to grow round and round the base of the pot. I often find this happens with houseplants or other plants that have been grown in solid-sided containers. The plant would then need re-potting into a larger container.

I thought I’d share my “Green Thumb” tip on potting up plants when they’ve become pot-bound.

As you’d imagine, having its roots running round in a tightly packed circle is not a natural or healthy condition for a plant. Roots are designed to spread out as they grow, to find nutrients and water for the plant.

My “Green Thumb” tip for re-potting a plant that has become pot-bound is this:

Teasing out pot-bound roots
Carefully tease out the pot-bound roots from their tight circle

I always very gently tease out the roots that have formed a pot-shaped circle on the base of the root ball. We don’t want to damage any of the roots, if at all possible, so it’s best to take time and go slowly with this task.

Potting on tomato plant
Now with loosened roots, the tomato plant is ready to re-pot

You can see on this tomato plant that the circle-bound roots ended up being several inches long. Now that these end roots are free rather than being bound to each other, they will be much more effective in supplying the plant with water and nutrients.

I then just pot up the plant in the normal way into a larger container – in my case, the plant was going into one of my large tomato plant buckets (they’re upcycled flower buckets from my local supermarket – I’m a great fan of upcycling!).

Potted-up tomato plants in the greenhouse
My potted-up tomato plants, now back in the greenhouse

Now that’s my greenhouse full of tomato plants … and there are still a few spare! I’ll just have to find a space in the garden for them … somewhere … 🙂

You can click here to visit Woodland Gnome’s Forest Garden blog for more “Green Thumb” Tips.

J Peggy Taylor

27 thoughts on ““Green Thumb” Tip: Release those pot-bound roots!

  1. What a fabulous post! This is one of the most important points for success when re-potting plants and when moving plants from nursery pots into the earth to grow on. Loosening encircling roots can absolutely make the difference for vigorous growth, as those loosened roots are not free to grow outwards into the new soil. Thank you for sharing your Green Thumb tip with us all! Cheers! WG

    1. Thank you, WG! It’s one of those basic little things when potting on or planting out – but for anyone new to gardening, I thought it might be a useful tip. Peggy 🙂

      1. Yes, Absolutely! One of those things it took some a while to learn…. especially important for trees and shrubs! Thank you for sharing such a simple but helpful green thumb tip ❤ ❤ ❤

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