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What To Do With Tangled Roots

Added 18 May 2021

Introduction

The root system is a vital aspect of having a healthy plant. The nutrients and elements that the plant needs are taken in with this system. Tangled roots or "root bound" is one of those inconveniences that can occur when the plant's roots get entangled, circling and creating a dense web of roots. This can lead to negative side effects for the plant itself. Keeping them healthy is fundamental to guarantee the success of your harvest. The most common cause comes from the fact most cannabis is grown in pots/containers and the issue is then that the plant has grown too big for the container it is in. Outdoors this can still happen with obstacles such as pipes and random debris under the surface but in normal circumstances plants are able to spread their roots without restrictions.  And because this is not visible to the naked eye, in this article, we will be going over how to identify this issue and how to handle it or even prevent it!
And just in case you have never witnessed a root system, below are just a few clips of our growers' capabilities of growing complex root systems, it also shows how massive these get, and this is sometimes underestimated but do not worry, in this article we will be going over more than a few things that are root related.

Identify rootbound

Plants that start having root-bound issues will develop side effects over time. Because the roots are not visible to the eye we must pay attention and check them once your plant starts showing the following symptoms :

  1. Visible : The most obvious one is when using containers with holes at the bottom after time you will start seeing many roots growing out the holes and that is the sign telling you it is time to replant to a bigger container.
  2. Water : If you have an impression you have to water on a daily basis and the soil is still on the dry side, and that was not the case a few weeks before, then it might be a good time to check the roots to see if the plants aren't outgrowing their pots
  3. Drooping / sick / wilting : Pants that seem to appear sick without any other cause can be a tell-all sign of roots not being able to take up nutrients anymore because of being so entangled. This can also work in a way of looking like it has a nutrient burn but in fact, it cannot take up nutrients.
  4. Small buds : In the flowering period it is tricky and not advised to replant but one of the symptoms of a plant going through flowering with entangled roots is your buds will be small and the plant will have a stunted growth

How to handle this?

This is a problem that can only be addressed with replanting to a bigger container and therefore, we need to remove it! When taking a plant out of its container you have to take in mind you can possibly damage the roots if not done carefully. One of the best ways to do this is the following :

Water a bit : watering your plant a little before taking it out of the container will make sure the soil will stick in a more solid mass and will slide out more easily. Dry soil will fall apart and too wet soil will be heavy and also fall apart.

Massage : before taking the next step, just give your container a small massage all around, this will make the soil become loose from the container walls, but don't overdo this.

Grip and flip : With resting your hand on the soil with the stem of the plant in between your fingers ( most use thumb and index finger ). Then flip over the plant upside down.

Take of the container : In most cases, the container should come off quite easily with a few taps but it is possible in a worst-case scenario that you might have to break the pot but first just give it an extra massage and use a stick to get the sides looser.

In order to handle tangled roots in a proper way, here are a few pointers :

  1. In a scenario where only a small amount of rootbound has occurred, for example when replanting a bit too late, you can simply use your fingers and a bit of patience to untangle the roots and replant them in a bigger pot/container
  2. Pruning is also a possibility but should only be done in worst-case scenarios or when no bigger container is available, but not advised with small plants or plants that are in flowering

Pruning is the act of removing a plant from its container and trimming excess roots that are entangled or even dead. When you do this, make sure to only cut away dead roots at first, and if you start cutting away healthy roots but not able to untangle, DO NOT cut away the taproots. Try to only cut away thread roots ( these grow off from the taproots ). A lot of plants will tolerate root pruning to a certain point but I would recommend never to remove more than 15% of your root mass unless in a worst-case scenario.

Can you prevent it?

Plant roots will always grow to the boundary of the container they are in because a root has one function, its job is looking for nutrient-rich soil. Conventional pots and containers made out of plastic and clay create the issue itself of where the root will hit the wall of the container and just bend off and start to go in a circular motion, and this will result in tangled roots aka rootbound. This manifests itself into a stressed-out plant, and it will have a lack of nutrition and even die in the worst cases.

When your container for your plant is made out of fabric, the roots behave very differently. When they reach the edge of a fabric container, instead of circling, the root tip will branch itself out into smaller structures that repeat this. This means your plant's root system is not only preventing itself from rootbound but it maximizes the absorption of oxygen, moisture, and nutrients which results in a much healthier plant.

The best way to prevent this is getting fabric pots usually called smart pots but there are also plastic variants that are usually called air pots and there are a few differences when using those.

Smart pots vs Air pots

Smart pots :

With these fabric types of containers, it is much better to prevent overwatering because they air out much better and seep the water out, but then on the other hand it is a bigger risk of having to water a lot or having a drought issue but also a bigger chance of creating puddles when overwatering. Also sometimes they can be clumsy because most models have no handles and since it is fabric there is little structure to hold on to when you have to move them. Because of the fabric itself, there is also a slightly bigger risk of mold and if you re-use these, keep in mind to give them a good wash before starting the next round!

Air pots :

These are just plastic pots with holes on the sides and the same issue with creating puddles can happen when overwatering but these do tend to hold their water just a bit better than a smart pot. Maybe the biggest difference here and also an advantage is that they are just much more rigid than a smart pot and much easier to move around if needed. On the other hand, if you need to store a bunch of air pots versus smart pots, then it's clear smart pots are the easy ones because you just fold them up.

Conclusion

Taking care of cannabis plants takes a lot of time and experience to get right but some issues can be easily prevented or taken care of and luckily tangled roots is one that can be prevented very easily. Even if there is no budget for the starting grower to get smart or air pots, you can always just make a bunch of holes in the sides of your pots to enhance the health of the root system.

 

If you have any experience or tips about this subject, feel free to drop a line below in the comment section!

References

How to correct the tangled roots in your cannabis plants - Redacción Mota Radio ( 2020 )

How to Root-Prune a Rootbound Plant - Kerry Michaels ( 2020 )

Information On How To Prune Roots On Houseplants - Kathee Mierzejewski ( 2020 )

5 Reasons Fabric Pots Deliver Massive Yields - Smartpots

Smart pots vs air pots vs spring pots - Spring Pot ( 2017 )

This article was updated May 2021






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