Tangled Roots and Potting Soil

Getting annuals, veggies and perennials off to a good start in container gardens is crucial to their success.  This starts with choosing well branched, stocky plants and examining the roots.

tangled annual roots

First, gently squeeze the pot between your hands or fingers and then tease the root mass out.  Inspect the roots.  They should be white, bright and firm.  And, just like the shoots, they should be well branched and largely untangled.  A few twisted roots here and there, along the sides or even growing out the bottom of the pot is okay, but if the majority of them are tangled and no potting soil is visible, then it’s best to choose another plant.  Sure, you can try to untangle them, but doing so starts the plant off at a disadvantage.


Next, use a quality potting soil.  Good combinations include an even mix of Canadian peat moss, shredded bark, vermiculite, perlite and Styrofoam pellets.  Normally, 3 of these components are used, which provides good retention of water and nutrients, yet allows the excess to drain out.  Place the root mass in the pot such that its top is about ½ to 3/4ths of an inch below the pot rim. Fill in the sides and firm the soil and roots slightly, then water to settle the soil.  About 10% of the water you apply should drain out the bottom of the pot.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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