What is root washing – and why is it something you need to know about as a gardener?
While it might not be the most commonplace gardening technique, root washing poses many benefits for tree growers in particular.
Root washing is a great option for you to choose when you want to take care of your tree and make sure that it is going to grow as much (and as healthy!) as possible. It is a newer process, but one that has really taken off in the past few years because it is really easy to work with and provides a number of benefits to the trees and their roots when you decide to transplant.
When root washing is done well, it can help with root ball problems, girdled tree roots, and so much more. Let’s take a look at why root washing is a good process to use and some of the tips you should consider when it is time to use this process.
What is Root Washing?
Root washing is a pretty new process that a lot of gardeners are starting to get into. It is the idea that container-grown trees and other plants will turn out healthier if you take the time to wash off all the soil from the roots before you try to transplant them.
This may seem a little bit strange. Even if you took the time to plant anything in the past, you likely remember that touching the root at all was highly frowned upon. It was long thought that touching these sensitive roots would make them break off and could ruin the plant. While you should not be rough on the roots and need to still show a little bit of caution when it comes to using them, washing the soil from the roots before you transplant them can be really healthy for the plants.
The Benefits of Root Washing
One of the reasons that root washing is a good idea is that it helps you to see the roots a little bit better than before. Without all the dirt and other things all over the roots, you will be able to clearly see how the roots are doing. You can even see the root flare in the area where the upper roots start to leave the trunk. The root flare is a good thing to look at because it will let you know more about the planting height and can make decisions about transplanting a little bit easier.
If you take a look at the roots and notice that they are circulating, this is a problem that you need to fix. It is a good idea to cut them to make them stop circulating. This does seem a little drastic, but it will help the plant grow a little better and stay stronger. Having fewer roots that are straight is a much better idea than having many roots that circulate when it comes to giving the plant the water and nutrients that it needs.
Reasons Root Washing is Good
There are a few reasons that you may want to consider root washing to make your tree a little bit stronger. A few of these include:
Limits Root Ball Problems
Rootballs can quickly start to cause some problems for your tree. While a few roots coming together is not that unusual, when a bunch of them come together and get too tangled, none of them will be able to stretch out and give the tree the water and nutrients it needs. With a little root washing, the roots can come apart and start to reach out for whatever they need in the soil.
Prevents and Addresses Girdled Tree Roots
Most trees are going to start as liners. These are small seedlings that will be grown in a small pot. The growers produce thousands of liners of the same type of tree. This makes the whole process as efficient as possible. You can purchase these at a local nursery, who will put these liners into larger pots and grow the trees to make them bigger. If the whole process is done well, the root ball will never have the chance to get root bound.
However, sometimes people get busy and the tree may not grow the way that you want. The roots can become root-bound and may circle the inside of the pot. The nursery may not take the time to fix this issue for you. But using root washing can help you to get the roots straightened out so the tree will grow well.
Helps Prevent When Root Ball Gets Planted Too Deep
Every time that you decide to move a tree from one pot to another, you need to plant your tree at the right height. This does take time and some extra money. Some nurseries will not take the time to get all of this right. They need to make the process as efficient as possible so they could just take even a small root and throw it into a pot that is too big.
The real problem that comes with this is when you take that tree home and then try to follow traditional advice. The root is likely not in the pot too long so the dirt being that high is not a big deal.
However, if you try to plant the tree at the same height as it was in the pot, then the root may be too deep. Washing the roots allows you to see exactly where they are so you can determine the right height to plant them at.
Is Root Washing Right for Me?
Many new gardeners wonder if this is a technique that they should try with some of their plants when they need to transplant something. This is going to depend on your skill level in the garden and whether you think it is a process that is worth your time. This is definitely a good option to use if you think there is a bit of a root problem. When the dirt is removed, you can look at the roots more clearly and then decide what steps to take to fix the problem.
If you do decide to use root washing, always remember to remove the soil high enough so it is above the root flare. When you replant the tree, later on, you need to make sure that the root flare is just at the level of the soil. And the only way to do this is to be able to clearly see the root flare in the first place.
When you are transplanting, if you notice that the soil you used in your pot is quite a bit different than the garden, then you may need to at least partially remove the soil. This is a good thing to consider when the plant is not already root bound. When you remove half the soil and leave the root ball intact, you are still able to expose the roots to the soil and check out the roots, but not cause as much damage to the roots.
And since you do expose the roots a little bit when you try out root washing, make sure that you give the tree some extra water for the next year or so. While root washing should not end up harming the roots you have, it may make them a little sensitive and they may struggle to soak up water as well for a little bit. Giving them some extra water may be the best way to ensure they stay healthy and strong.
6 Tips for Root Washing
When you are ready to give root washing a try, there are a few different tips that you can try out to help make this process easier. Recognizing the benefits of root washing can make the process that much easier to try out. Some of the tips that you should follow when it comes to root washing include:
1. Be Careful with the Roots
Use some caution when washing off the roots. Roots of trees are often stronger than we give them credit for. But this does not mean that they are able to withstand a lot of pressure. You should use some caution when it comes to the roots, treating them gently and with some care, so they will still work for the tree when you put them back in the soil.
2. Check for Any Abnormalities
When you do the root washing, you should be checking for any abnormalities in the roots. Roots that look like they are sick or have died off, roots that curl around too much, or roots that look like something else is wrong with them need to be cut off and abandoned to protect the rest of the tree.
3. Cut Off Any Bad Roots
After you remove the soil and all the dirt around the roots, you can then go through and take a look at the roots in front of you. Check to see if there are any roots that are bad and unhealthy. If the majority of the roots seem to have a problem, then it may be time to look for a new tree that has a better root system.
However, if only a few seem to look like something is wrong with them, then just cut them off. The tree will do just fine with fewer roots and cutting them like this can make it healthier overall.
4. Use Gentle Water
When washing off the roots, do not go get your pressure hose and go to town on the roots. The roots can handle a little bit of washing, but they are not able to handle a huge spray at a time. Use a gentle hose pressure to move the soil off the roots and then take a look for any problems.
5. Give Extra Water to the Tree When Done
Any time you plant a tree in your yard, whether you do a root washing or not, you need to provide the tree with a little bit of extra water. This will help the tree to get nice and strong and ensures that it gets lots of the hydration it needs. This seems to be especially important when it comes to a tree that went through root washing.
With this kind of process, you need to give a little bit of extra water to the tree for the next year or so. This will help make sure the tree stays hydrated and does not die out on you. Do not overdo it, a little bit is fine.
6. Only Do the Process Once
You should not waste time washing off the roots a bunch of times. While the roots can handle a washing for a little bit, if you handle them too often, then they may get old and not work as well for you with growing the tree. It is best to only do this process once to fix the roots. After that, you just need to take care of the plant and make sure that the roots have no reason to get bad again.
Root washing is a great process to do when you plan to plant a new tree. However, you need to use the right precautions right from the beginning to make sure that the process is done right and that when you use it, it can help you take care of the roots of your tree.
Choosing Root Washing for Your Plants
Root washing is a simple process to use, as long as you do it the right way. When you take the time to wash all of the water from the roots, without being harsh or difficult with the plant, you are able to expose the roots and see how they are doing. This may even be a good way for you to make the plant stronger as you can remove some of the roots that are struggling.
Always make sure that you treat the roots with care and caution. It is easy to damage the roots, which can harm the whole plant during the transplanting process. But a little gentle water to remove the dirt will be enough to clean them off and make them look a lot better.
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