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Houseplant Haircut – The Shoestring Herbalist

Houseplant Haircut – The Shoestring Herbalist

My plant was in trouble. It had a wreath of roots coming out of the drainage hole and into the base of the drainage basin. There were so many roots that my plant was sitting at a slight angle due to their mass.

How did this even happen? I consider myself a good houseplant mama. I water my plants regularly. I rotate them annually to be sure they get even sunlight. I set them out on the porch in the summer to allow the wind to strengthen their stems. I even know the 3 signs of a root bound plant. Yet I got caught with out-of-control plant roots.

Houseplant Roots

Photo by Dylan Sierralupe

Wait! Back up. What are the 3 signs of a root bound houseplant? It is pretty simple really. Embarrassingly simple. I have no excuse for my neglect.

Rule #1: A plant that needs to be repotted dries out quickly between regular watering even in winter. Plants don’t grow as quickly in cooler moths as they do in spring and summer. This extra water is required for extra plant growth. This leads us to the next rule.

Rule #2: A plant that needs repotting doesn’t show many signs of growth in the warmer months. Even in an air conditioned building, a plant will respond to temperature variations. Doors and windows still open and close which lets the plant know it is time to stretch out.

Rule #3: A plant that needs repotting will reach for more desperately needed soil by searching with its roots. Lift your potted plant and look at the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot. If you see roots, it’s time to repot your houseplant.

I had noticed the first 2 signs of a root bound plant for my poor little philodendron but ignored it regardless. It wasn’t until a sunny summer day inspired me to do a bit of housekeeping that it’s pleas where noticed. I moved all the plants off a windowsill to clean under them and saw the sad coil of roots between the plant pot and the drain saucer. Time for a trim.

Photo by Dylan Sierralupe

Photo by Dylan Sierralupe

I put the plant outside and laid out the roots. There were over 7 feet in length. I cut them in half and repotted them into a slightly bigger pot. I was fairly cautious with my root trimming as I did not want my plant to go into shock.

Now the little houseplant is much happier. I gave it some homemade plant fertilizer and returned it to its rightful place on the newly cleaned windowsill. A week later, it’s color returned and there is new leaf bud at it’s base.

I feel it’s forgiveness for my neglect. I have been checking my other plants for signs of root bind. A good plant mama must always be vigilant.

Sue Sierralupe

Sue Sierralupé is a Certified Master Herbalist, Master Gardener and Sustainable Landscape Specialist. She is the clinic manager and lead herbalist at Occupy Medical clinic. Sue is author of The Pocket Herbal: Medicinal Plants that Changed the World and co-author of The Practical Herbalist Herbal Folios series. Follow her blog at Herbalism Manifesto for commentary on herbs, parenting, nutrition and a whole lot more.


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