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Ooo if there was ever an area of house plant care that caused contention, it’s cutting plant roots.
On one of Kaylee Ellen’s early videos, she used to be a regular ol’ root cutter, and the comments were full of aghast, angry people.
I never used to be a root cutter, but now that I have a few plants in LECA, I do it quite often.
Obviously I use the nearest pair of kitchen scissors, because I’m gross. I do wash them after.
Do as I say though, and not as I do, and use a pair of sterilised scissors or snips.
Will trimming house plant roots damage the plant?
It really depends on how much you’re cutting off.
As long as you’re not snipping off more than a quarter of the roots, and the remaining roots are healthy, I don’t see the problem.
Some plants are more precious about their roots than others, but I’ve never had one that dropped down dead after a bit of a root trim.
I have an Aerogarden, which is an appliance that grows herbs (and other plants) on your kitchen worktop. The plants grow in water, so their roots are easy to see. The plants each sit in a little pod that you can easily pop out, roots and all.
A few weeks ago, I was rearranging my herbs, so I had to take them out. The roots were ridiculous, so I trimmed them off. I actually took more than a quarter and they were fine, but I wouldn’t recommend taking more than a quarter, just in case.
Evidence in the photo below (on the left). I’m sorry it’s a crap picture, but I had to take a screenshot of a video I sent to my mum a while ago.
What happens if you cut the roots of a plant?
In short, they’ll grow more.
Plants are quite resilient to a lot of things, and they’re designed to grow.
Sure, they probably have a bit of a panic after the actual cutting, but they’ll get over it and work on regrowing those roots.
You might find that any above the ground growing (leaves etc) may be compromised/stop entirely) after a root trim.
Not always, but it’s worth considering.
If you have a favourite plant that putting out a new leaf/bloom, maybe wait until after they’re finished with that before you proceed with your root chop.
Should you trim plant roots?
You don’t have to. It doesn’t benefit your plant (except in certain cases which I’ll go through later) and can cause them a bit of stress.
So, when should you trim your plant’s roots?
- If your plant has root rot
Root rot is a pain, and is really common in newer plant parents, because we all tend to overwater at the beginning.
Root rot is quick to kill, but as I said, plants are resilient, amd if you catch it in time, your plant may recover.
If your plant is really bad, read this article on rehabbing plants. A plant can grow a new set of roots weirdly quickly.
The most important thing is to chop off all the gross roots off. Any roots that are soft (roots should feel pretty firm) and brown should be removed.
It’s beneficial to repot the plant into different soil, because the bacteria that causes root rot can remain in the soil HOWEVER in the interests of saving time, cash, and a bit of soil, I’m going to tell you what I do.
I just add a bit of aeration, in the form of perlite of orchid bark to the existing soil. The bacteria that causes root rot thrives in oxygen-deprived soil, so adding the aeration should (emaphasis onthe ‘should’) kill the bacteria.
I prefer to rehab plants in water (preferably in my aquarium) because 1. they grow water roots rather than soil roots which I think are sturdier (I think it’s just the way they look, I don’t think they’re actually any better) and 2. I can keep an eye on the root growth without having to disturb the plant.
- If your plant is outgrowing its pot
If you want to keep your plant small, you can accomplish this by trimming the roots, but it’s quite an exact science, and if you do it for a long time, you can damage the plant and risk killing it.
However, a quick trim because your plant is super root bound and you don’t currently have another pot is fine, but tricky.
Why tricky? Because rootbound plants that re so root bound they need to be repotted/trimmed are NOT easy to trim. The roots are all intertwined with one another and it’s a right pain.
To be honest, I’d just wait until I got another pot.
Can a plant recover from root damage?
Yes, they’re very quick to grow new roots.
I initially thought this was weird, because it’s not like plants are going to have their root trimmed in the wild, but I suppose plants have to be prepared for any part of them to be removed at an time.
Animals might eat their leaves/roots, flooding might wash them away, so they have to reroot themselves; even being trodden on can uproot them and make them have to start again. Well done plants.
What happens if you accidentally ripped plant roots?
I have an embarrassing amount of experience on accidentally ripping plant roots.
As you may well know, a lot of my plants are now in leca.
One of the most important parts of preparing your plant for leca is cleaning the roots.Any bit of soil left on the roots can conjure up the aforementioned root rot-causing bacteria and kill your plant.
I am…bad at it.
I’ve watched so many YouTube videos of people washing their plant’s roots, and I’m still terrible at it.
At the beginning stage, when I’m removing large chunks of soil, I usually remove AT LEAST one very important root.
And then umpteen more once we’re in the soaking-in-the-sink stage (use a bowl – you don’t want soil in your plumbing).
I don’t even bother with the soft toothbrush stage any more. It was carnage.
In my experience, the roots grow back. If the plants are shocked, they don’t show it.
If you’re sitting there thinking ‘I didn’t even know I had to worry about this’, calm down. You don’t.
Trimming roots for aesthetic reasons (as opposed to for getting rid of rotten roots) is best left to the professionals.
Those if you with Bonsai, I believe that trimming their roots is a thing, but I don’t have one. If you want me to get one so I can make the mistakes and you don’t have to, go ahead and leave me a comment.
I’m more than happy to take requests for plants to buy.
If you’re worried about trimming roots due to root rot, don’t. It’s easy. Rotten roots are gross, and it’s hard to go wrong.
Even if you end up chopping off most/all of the roots, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose the plant.
Trust me, I’ve brought back multiple (pretty big) plants that ended up rootless.
It’s a great skill to have actually, because so many plants in the bargain bin are there due to root rot. I got my Philodendron Tortum for £9.99 because he had about an inch of root.