A new tree or shrub is an investment for the future. When we pick an ornamental plant, we have the hope that it will survive for many years and offer seasons of beauty that enhance our landscape.  Time is often spent picking a suitable spot, preparing the planting hole, and watering until establishment.  We give it the best of care to make certain that our new plant becomes a more or less permanent feature.

With all of our tender love and care for new ornamentals, there is one important practice that we may neglect. Most homeowners purchase plants in containers and it is common to find root balls with circling roots.  If any root ball problems are not addressed before installation, the life of your plant may be shorter than you want.

Ten years after installation, this plant was ultimately killed by girdling, circling roots. Photo by Warren Tate, Escambia County Master Gardener.

The best practice for woody ornamentals is to cut any roots that are circling the trunk or container. Homeowners may slice downward through the root ball around the entire plant. For shrubs, it is recommended to shave off “the entire outside periphery of the rootball” to eliminate circling roots. These practices allow the root system to grow outward into new soil and greatly reduce the possibility of girdling roots killing your plants years after establishment.

Circling roots are cut before installation. Photo by Beth Bolles, Escambia County Extension.

For more information on shrub establishment, visit the UF Publication Planting Shrubs in the Florida Landscape.

Beth Bolles
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