Fine Gardening Project Guides

Container Gardening

Guide Home

Root Pruning Container Plants

If you have a pot-bound plant, here are some tips on how to revive and replant it

Perennial plants, small trees, and shrubs (along with houseplants) can only live for so long—generally a couple of years—within the same pot. If your container plant is root-bound, or just growing a little too vigorously for your liking, it may be a candidate for a process called root pruning. While pruning the roots of a plant may sound scary, it’s sometimes necessary. If done properly, root pruning can improve the plant’s growth and overall health. This is especially true with container plants that can become “pot-bound,” with the roots girdling around the inside of the pot. This also means those roots can’t take up enough nutrients and water to support the plant. A severely root-bound plant can eventually die.

Here are the basic steps you’ll see in this video:

  1. Remove the plant from its pot. Turn the pot upside down (or on its side if it’s a large pot that’s too heavy for you to hold in one hand), and pull the plant out cleanly.
  2. Cut away the outer soil and roots. Using a sharp soil knife or pruning shears, carefully cut away the outer, circular growth of roots and soil.
  3. Loosen up the root system. Using your hands or a cultivator, loosen up the root ball. This may take some muscle, especially if the roots are tightly packed.
  4. Trim off up to a third of the root ball if needed. The amount of roots you need to trim depends on the space in your container and the size of the plant.
  5. Repot your plant at the same depth. Add new soil before returning your plant to its container. You can also give it a dose of liquid fertilizer to help it get reestablished quickly.

Watch as Lee Reich, author of Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, demonstrates his technique.

Next: How to Water a Pot
View Comments


  1. barbandart 08/01/2014

    Wonderful demonstration. We loved it and will use it. We are trying to save some plants we got in containers from a local discount store for about a month until our children who have just moved into a new house can have the landscapers come in. This week, their landscapers came in and sprayed their lot with a herbicide before their acre size lot receives its final grade. Next they will bring in enough topsoil to cover the lot so that the topsoil is 4" deep. While their soil is sandy and their new subdivision was a blueberry farm, they have been told that they already have good soil.). Next, trees and shrubs, including our shrubs (3 Elderberry Black Lace, 3 Euonymous fortune, 5 Cotoneaster X Hessei, 3 Weigela Wine and Roses, 3 Ninebark Summer Wine) will be planted. These are just our contributions and will not begin to cover the lot but our plants are root bound and we are hoping to save them until the beginning of Sept. by repotting them and root pruning them.

  2. rullrich 06/16/2017

    Super helpful video. Thanks.

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Container Gardening

Container Gardening

Trustworthy advice on all aspects of gardening in pots

View Project Guide

View All Project Guides »

Become a member and get unlimited site access, including the Container Gardening Project Guide.

Start Free Trial