Should you break up the root ball when planting a tree?

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When you are planting a tree, you will need to be absolutely thorough in placing it. This is because the area where you will plant your tree is where it will stay for a very long time. Making mistakes and not being careful in the process can sadly result in your tree not surviving the test of time and will result in it to eventually get sick or die on its own.

For trees that are grown in a nursery or in a plastic container or pot, you will have to transfer them to a proper planting area at the appropriate time. When the day comes that you have to get it planted to another hole, you may notice that your tree’s roots have formed a ball-like shape after you uproot it. This is also called a “root ball” and you will absolutely need to break it up before planting your tree to another location.

Beginner gardeners have made the mistake of not breaking up root balls and this resulted in an unhealthy tree that will not last for a long time. If you want to keep your trees in a nice state, do not be afraid to get your hands dirty and loosen up the roots before planting.

What is a root ball?

A root ball is the mass of roots that have been growing under your tree. These roots were confined in a place and have formed a ball-like shape and are present under all plants, trees, and shrubs. Because it is not visible, many people are surprised when they uproot a plant and see the state of its roots.

When it is time to uproot and transfer a tree from a pot to another location, it is important to properly examine the root ball. If not properly handled, it is highly likely that your tree will not survive the replanting process.






What would happen if you do not break the root ball of your tree before planting?

In most cases, it would be crucial to break up the root ball of your tree before planting it in another location. This is because it is possible to damage your tree when you did not loosen its roots properly.



Unfortunately, many people do not loosen the root ball of their tree before replanting it. This is mainly because they are scared to inflict damage to the tree’s roots, or maybe because they do not know how to do it properly. If you do not know how to loosen the roots, you don’t have to worry that much. According to many tree experts and arborists, it will be actually more harmful to your tree to leave its roots alone instead of doing what you can to loosen it before planting.

If you do not break up the root ball:

  1. Your tree will have extremely bounded roots

When your tree is already root-bound, it will be harder to loosen. The roots will grow in unideal weird positions all over the place and it will be hard for your tree to recover.

  1. Your tree will not get nourishment

When your tree’s root ball was not loosened, it will be similar to strangling the tree. Your plant will not be healthy enough and will not be able to get the right amount of nutrients it needs.

  1. Your tree will (eventually) die

If you do not break up your plant’s tree ball, arborists call this as an unfortunate way of sentencing your plant to die a slow and guaranteed death.

There are quite a lot of people that have made the unfortunate error of leaving root balls alone and we understand. Most people can be quite affectionate with their plants and disturbing their roots can be somewhat cruel for some. When you break up your plant’s tree ball, it would be good to remember that you are doing it for their overall health. The simple act of loosening roots or having to cut off some parts will be very beneficial for your plant in the long run.

How do you break up a tree’s root ball properly?

To break up a root ball, you will need to do it properly and securely to not inflict too much damage on your plant.



Step 1: Before you uproot your tree, make sure everything is ready

Uprooting your tree before getting the tools ready and preparing the area you will transfer it to will absolutely damage your plant. When you take too long and your tree is already uprooted, the roots will eventually dry out and it will put too much stress on your plant.

Step 2: Examine your plant

When everything you will need is prepared, start to lay your tree on its side carefully. If it is placed in a pot or container, gently twist the container to remove it or cut it away from your plant’s soil.  Observe the root ball and see the state of its roots and how it is positioned.

Step 3: Break up the root ball

If the roots are only knotted lightly, use your fingers to carefully comb out the knots like what you would do to your hair. It is unavoidable to get some roots broken, but you need to lessen the damage by loosening them slowly

If you notice that the roots are too intertwined, you will have to get your scissors and cut some roots away. The safest way to do this is by cutting an inch off or more of the bottom part of the root ball. Depending on how bound it is, you may need to cut more roots off. After cutting, comb through the roots using your fingers as gently as you can.

Step 4: Continue with the planting process

When you are sure that your root ball is more balanced and is no longer tightly-bound with each other, you can now proceed to plant your tree.

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