We’ve all been there: you buy a new plant at the store, bring it home, and plant it without first loosening the root ball. It’s easy to do in all the excitement of adding another plant to your yard. But what should you do when this happens? Should you dig up the plant and loosen the root ball, or just leave it how it is?
In most cases, it’s perfectly fine to leave your new plant in the ground after forgetting to loosen the root ball. Unless the plant is extremely root bound, it will thrive just fine with an intact root ball. If the plant was extremely root bound, you can gently dig it up within a few days of planting it to loosen the root ball.
Keep reading to learn more about why it’s important to loosen root balls and what to do if you bypassed this step when planting.
Why Loosening Root Balls Is Important
When you buy a plant at a nursery, it has often been growing in the same pot for several months. As you take the plant out of its pot, you might notice that the roots are wrapped around the soil in the pot or are poking out the bottom of the pot. This means that the plant is root bound.
When a plant is root bound, it needs a bigger space to grow. This is typically when plants are re-potted or planted in their permanent home outdoors.
However, if the plant is extremely root bound and the root ball isn’t loosened before it’s replanted, the plant will struggle to develop a strong root system. Loosening the root ball allows the plant to send its roots out into the new soil to gather the nutrients it needs.
What To Do If You Forgot To Loosen The Root Ball Before Planting
While loosening the root ball before planting can help give your new plant a head start, don’t fret if you forgot this step. Most plants will be able to thrive the way they are. In fact, disturbing your newly-transplanted plant can actually do more harm than good.
Transplanting is stressful on a plant. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, the last thing you want to do is dig up your plant and add more stress. Instead of giving them a head start, repeatedly digging them up will stunt their growth.
However, if your plant is a hardy annual or ornamental grass and its root ball is extremely compacted, you may be able to dig it up and gently loosen it. Make sure to do this within a week after planting it to reduce the stress on the plant.
If your plant wasn’t very root bound, it’s perfectly acceptable to leave it in the ground just the way it is. It will send out new roots into the nearby soil without issue and will grow to be a strong, healthy plant.