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
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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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
Related articles you’ll love:
- Video tour: potted citrus garden (in Ag Zone 7b)
- How to grow citrus trees from cuttings
- Step-by-step: how to grow your own organic citrus at home in any climate zone
- How to grow yuzu: the cold-hardy citrus
- How to grow guavas in containers in non-tropical regions
- How to go bananas and grow bananas in pots (in temperate climates)