Gardening

How to root-prune rootbound potted fruit trees (w/ video!)

How to root-prune rootbound potted fruit trees (w/ video!) thumbnail
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If you grow fruit trees in pots, then you’ll need to learn how to properly root-prune rootbound potted fruit trees every few years to keep the plants healthy and productive. In this article (and video), we’ll show you how, using citrus, avocado, and guava trees as examples.


If you’re trying to figure out when or how to root-prune your potted fruit trees, you’re in the right place! Below, you’ll find our root pruning instructional video, which also includes a one-month follow up showing you how our trees fared AFTER getting a heavy root pruning.

Further down the page, we also provide written notes with key takeaways you need to know to successfully root-prune your rootbound potted fruit trees (you can also use this section instead of taking notes while watching the video!).

Video: How to root-prune rootbound potted fruit trees 

*Video note: The above video may not appear or play if you’re running ad blocking software. Please temporarily disable ad blocking software if you’re unable to view the video. Ads help us produce and provide all of our educational information for free, so thanks for helping us keep the lights on! 

Video notes: root-pruning rootbound potted fruit trees:

Key takeaways from the video about how to prune the roots of your rootbound potted fruit trees:

When do you need to root-prune your potted plants?

A severely rootbound potted calamondin orange tree.

A severely rootbound potted calamondin orange tree.

Generally, every 2-3 years, you’ll need to remove and prune the roots on your potted fruit trees. The time between root pruning will vary to some degree based on:

  • species/type of fruit tree;
  • age of tree;
  • the size of the tree relative to its pot. 

We also like to time the root-pruning process for when we have several days of overcast or rainy weather in the forecast to reduce immediate stress on our fruit trees after a pruning. You can also move your re-potted fruit trees into a shadier spot for a few days after root pruning and accomplish the same objective. Will your trees be fine if you don’t? Probably so, but we like to baby ours if possible.  

Tools and supplies you’ll need to root-prune & repot your trees:

  • gloves to protect your hands (yes, I violated this rule in the video);
  • saw (to cut through roots);
  • *possibly long knife or pointed saw to cut outer roots as necessary to remove plant from pot (especially if your pot has a convex shape that’s smaller at top);
  • PRE-DAMPENED high quality organic potting soil – we highly recommend either FoxFarm Ocean Forest potting soil or FoxFarm’s Happy Frog potting soil (don’t use  garden soil or it will become too compacted in pot);
  • mulch to top up the pot and protect the soil.

Root pruning and re-potting your fruit trees is a messy process, so also consider where you want to do it. If you do it on your patio or driveway, you may want to put down a tarp to make cleanup easier.  

Step-by-step: How to root-prune your rootbound fruit trees: 

Step 1: Remove tree from the pot.

removing rootbound tree from pot

Depending on the size of the tree and the shape of its pot, this may be the hardest part of the process. Consider having someone help you throughout to prevent damage to your tree — or your back! 

If the tree is really stuck in its pot, you can use a long saw or knife to cut through the roots around the perimeter of the pot, which will help loosen it.  

Step 2: Remove 1/3 of the root mass

Sawing 1/3 of root mass off of rootbound potted citrus tree.

Using a saw, remove 1/3 of the tree’s root mass from the base/bottom of the root ball. Also using a saw, remove several inches of side root mass. This allows:

  • space for new potting soil;
  • removal of roots that are choking out other roots, potentially harming the plant;
  • new root growth. 

If the root mass on the top of your potted fruit tree is above the stem line, this is also a good time to remove any top root mass as-needed. 

Step 3: Measure and put dampened potting soil in base of pot. 

Measure and put potting soil back in pot before putting tree back in

You want the soil surface of your potted fruit trees to be 4-5″ inches below the lip of your pot to:

  • allow room for a 2-3″ mulch layer (we highly recommend mulching the soil surface while being careful not to push mulch up against the trunk of the tree), and
  • prevent water runoff during irrigation.  

To make sure you don’t have to hoist your root-pruned fruit tree in and out of the pot multiple times, use a tape measure to see how much potting soil you need to add to the base of the pot to achieve the right height. Then, add your pre-dampened potting soil to the base of the pot accordingly.

*At this point, you may also want to add a bit of slow-release organic fertilizer to your potting soil mix if your trees are about to enter the period when they’re putting on active growth (spring & summer) and/or you’re re-potting heavy feeders like citrus trees.  

Step 4: Place tree back in pot, fill in the sides, and mulch. 

put potting soil back in sides and top of pot as needed

Now that your fruit tree is back in its pot, pack dampened potting soil into sides, pushing down with your hands to make sure you don’t leave any air large empty pockets. 

Then, put 3″ of mulch on the soil surface, tapering back towards the trunk (don’t bury your trunk!). If necessary, prune tree branches as-needed, removing dead, crossing, or unwanted branches. 

Step 5: Observe your tree over next month, and baby it as-needed. 

root-pruning calamondin citrus tree

As mentioned up top, we try to time the root-pruning process for periods of overcast or rainy weather to reduce post-root pruning stress. You may also want to consider moving your re-potted fruit trees into a shadier spot for a few days after root pruning. 

Be sure to keep your root-pruned fruit tree(s) soil damp (not wet) as the plant recovers over the next month. It may drop its old leaves within the next few weeks and put out new growth. 

The tree should begin showing signs of recovery within 3-6 weeks depending on the species. Watch until the end of the video at the top of this article if you want to see what a citrus, guava, and avocado tree look like one month after being root-pruned!  


We hope this information was helpful, and keeps your potted fruit trees healthy and productive! 

KIGI,

Tyrantfarms
 

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Samuel Forest
    May 7, 2021 at 9:02 pm

    Hi Aaron,

    I really liked your video. I’m in the same situation right now. I have a pretty big Glenn mango tree in a pot and the root mass seems rootbound.

    I live in Canada and the tree is flowering as we speaks and I’m wondering if I cut the roots if the flowers will fall. I didn’t quite get if your avocado reflowered after or if it kept the flowers. I’ve had this tree for 3-4 years and repotted once. I could always go up in pot size again, but the tree is about the size of your plants and it’s hard to manage right now. Basically, I’m having an hard time to get it through doors.

    The tree is inside right now and I should get it out next week, but the temps will be about 46-50 at night and about 65 in the daytime. I don’t know if this affects the procedure, meaning if I should wait or not.

    I would really like your advice on this. I can send you pics via email.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      May 8, 2021 at 7:18 am

      Hi Samuel! The avocado tree in the video had a bunch of flowers just about to open when I root-pruned it in March. It’s now May, and it never dropped any flowers after root pruning. In fact, we’ve had the best fruit set ever on the tree, which may or may not be correlated with the root pruning. Regardless, it’s now pretty clear that being root pruned did not cause it to drop its flowers.

      As for your flowering mango tree: the same may be true, but I hate to tell you anything with certainty because there may be differences between how other species of trees tolerate root pruning when they’re flowering. Based on our experience, all we can say is that citrus and avocados don’t drop their flowers when root-pruned. If you do decide to root-prune your mango, please check back in and let us know if there was any impact on the flowers? The temperatures you mentioned shouldn’t be a problem for the tree if you prune.

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