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How-To

Root Washing: Why and How to Wash Roots

Fine Gardening – Issue 191
Your roots are showing. Unless they are surrounded by native soil, roots are unlikely to leave the soil media they are growing in, thereby preventing the plant from becoming established in its new home. Photo: Steve Aitken

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard fellow gardeners talking about “root washing” their trees, shrubs, or even perennials before planting. The thought of removing all the protective coverings from the root mass may seem counterintuitive or even dangerous. But this method—when performed correctly—will give your plants the best chance of establishing into your gardens and landscapes.

The most common reason container or balled-in-burlap (B&B) plants die after transplanting is that their roots fail to establish in the landscape. In comparison, bare-root stock like roses or fruit trees are more likely to establish, though their initial aboveground growth may be slow. This sluggish top growth is often referred to as “transplant shock,” a term I dislike because it not only sounds bad, but it also suggests that everything has stopped. Nothing could be further from the truth! Newly planted bare-root stock puts its resources into new root growth—not crown…

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