Most flowering plants enjoy being root-bound because it promotes good blooming. But no plant will enjoy an extremely root-bound situation. If you own Hibiscus plants and grow them in pots, it might have struck you whether they enjoy being rootbound or not.
Generally, Hibiscus enjoys slightly rootbound conditions because it makes them bloom better. But, they will undergo problems if root-bound reaches its extreme level. In that case, you have to treat the problem by repotting the plant into a larger pot and replacing old soil.
If you are growing Hibiscus in pots, your plant will become root-bound at some point in time. This article can help you identify the levels of root-bound and understand how to treat them in time.
What does a rootbound plant mean?
When a plant gets rootbound, the roots are running out of space.
When they lack space to grow properly, they grow in a circular motion and come out of the drainage holes and soil surface.
In the condition where the roots grow in a circular motion, it seems like they bind the soil.
This condition is called rootbound.
Root-bound is a severe issue.
Over time, the roots will remain too compact and tightly entangled.
This can damage the roots.
This is the roots’ way of collecting nutrients and water from the soil.
When a plant is heavily rootbound, you will barely see any soil.
Without enough soil, the plant won’t be able to receive any water or nutrients.
But, if your plant is showing a few rootbound signs but, still there is enough soil visible, you don’t have to repot them immediately.
Does a Hibiscus like to be rootbound?
In general, Hibiscus can tolerate and enjoy a slightly rootbound condition.
It helps them to flower better.
But, they won’t like being root-bound if it lasts for a long time and finally reaches its extreme level.
An extremely root-bound plant will have a lot of issues, especially in the growth and development of the plant.
Since Hibiscus is a fast-growing plant, it won’t take much time to become highly root-bound.
If you don’t take action at the initial stages, you will lose the plant.
So, check your plant daily and watch out for the signs of root-bound that we will share in the next point.
What are the possible signs of a rootbound Hibiscus plant?
There are multiple symptoms to understand how badly the plant is root-bound.
Some signs are more obvious than others.
Looking for those signs can help you identify the problem.
Here are the signs of a root-bound Hibiscus plant:
Roots protruding out of the drainage holes
Roots coming out of the drainage holes are an evident sign that your plant is root-bound.
Your plant needs relocation to a big container for enough space to grow and spread.
When you see this, consider taking the plant out of the pot.
You will find that the roots have grown in a circular motion.
You will also discover that the root ball has grown equal to the size of the container.
It signifies that you have to move the plant to a big to give the rootball room to grow without being suppressed.
Roots coming out from the topsoil
When the problem increases, you will see that the roots will come out from the surface of the topsoil.
This will destroy the structure of the soil.
This means that the roots don’t have space to grow, and now they are coming out from the topsoil in search of more space to spread themselves.
The roots will continue to grow as long as they are getting space.
You will find that the pot seems to be swelling at one time.
A swelling container means that the roots push from inside for more space to grow and spread.
Water draining out fast
When watered, the water immediately drains out of the drainage holes.
This means that the plant has become root-bound, and there is barely any soil left to hold the water and pass it to the plant.
That is why the water you provide them will roam around the plant and its roots and immediately come out from the drainage holes.
As a result, the plant will experience dehydration.
Water will not drain despite the pot having drainage holes.
When the roots grow out from the drainage holes, they block those holes.
As a result, the water you provide will not come out from those holes.
Consider checking the bottom of the pot, and you will find that the roots have grown out from the holes so much that there is no space left for the water to escape.
This can further cause root rot.
No soil left
When you observe the above signs in your plant, check the amount of soil in the container.
You will notice there are many roots, and they have bounded your soil so much that barely any soil is left.
Difficulty in removing the plant from the container
When you see some clear signs of root-bound, you will think of checking the roots to confirm the issue.
If the plant is in a good state, it will come out if you flip and shake the container.
But, if it doesn’t come out, it confirms that the plant is root-bound.
There is rarely any soil left to hold the water or the nutrients.
So, the plant will fail to receive any water or nutrients, and the leaves will become yellow or brown.
If you find discolored leaves despite giving the right take care, it is probably due to root-bound.
Check the roots, and you will get your answer.
What are the effects of root-bound?
In the previous point, the signs of root-bound can somewhat tell the effects.
But still, I would like to explain again for a clear understanding.
- The plant will experience dehydration because there will be no soil left to retain the water. The water will immediately come out of drainage holes.
- The plant will experience root rot because the roots will come out of drainage holes and block them, thus preventing the water from escaping. They will remain in the water and cause root rot.
- Root-bound will make the plant lack nutrients because no soil is left to hold the nutrients. Without soil, the plant cannot take the nutrients. Without proper nutrients and water, the plant won’t get their requirements and will stop growing.
- The roots will become so entangled and compact that the roots will get damaged due to this tightness.
- The plant will die if you keep your plant like this for a long time.
How can I save my rootbound Hibiscus plant?
To save any root-bound plant, you must shift it from one container to another.
Even the grounded plants will become rootbound if they are between obstacles like walls or pipes.
In that case, you have to transplant your plant to some area without such barriers.
Grounded plants can also get root-bound if the soil becomes too old.
Old soil sometimes becomes so compact that it restrains the roots from further growth.
Like the potted plants, they will grow in a circular motion for space.
Now, let’s see how can a root-bound plant be saved.
Since Hibiscus plants are fast-growing plants, they will need repotting every year.
But, before repotting, check for the signs of a root-bound plant because, as I said, they enjoy slightly root-bound.
Repot soon after you see some obvious signs.
Below, we have shared a step-by-step guide to repotting Hibiscus plants.
- A pot
- Potting soil
- Pruning tools
- Rubbing alcohol
Now, let’s get into the steps:
Choose a pot
There are two options here.
If you want to give your plant more space to grow and spread, select a pot a few inches (1-2”) bigger than the current one.
If you don’t want your plant to grow big, prune off some parts.
Choose a container that is the same size as the old one with a little more space.
Ensure that it has drainage holes.
The container should neither be very big nor very small.
A big container can cause overwatering.
On the other hand, a small one will make your plant root-bound again.
Add potting soil
Fill only 2 inches of the container with the potting soil at first.
Use well-drained soil for good drainage.
Add some organic matters like compost to improve nutrition and retention.
Hibiscus enjoys slightly moist and nutritive soil.
A good soil mix would be 2 parts potting soil, 1 part compost, and 1 part sand.
Compost can improve nutrition, and sand can help in drainage.
Some other suggestions are:
- 50% peat, 45% composted bark and 5% perlite
- 1/3 of each potting soil, compost/ worm castings, and peat moss/ coco coir
- 2 parts of potting soil, 2 parts peat moss, and 1 part vermiculite or perlite
Moist the soil mix a little for easy mixing. Don’t dampen them too much.
Remove the plant
This can be a bit difficult if the plant is too rootbound.
Lift the pot, flip and shake it to take the plant out.
If it doesn’t work, tap the sides of the container to loosen the soil.
Use spades or other gardening tools to remove the soil from the edges.
Don’t forget to disinfect the tools before use.
Loosen the roots
Slowly and steadily untangle the roots.
If the plant has been rootbound for a long time, the roots might be stubborn and compact.
You need to be patient while dealing with this if you don’t want to hurt the plant.
If the roots are too compact, you have to cut through them for easy detangling.
Prune some roots
Root pruning is another way to save a rootbound plant.
If you want to keep your plant in the same old size, prune off 1/3rd roots.
Here, you can repot the plant in the container having the same size as before, with a little more space (1″).
You can also use the same old container.
However, most gardeners want their plants to grow big.
For that, you need to prune only the broken and damaged roots.
Plant Hibiscus in the new planter/location
Don’t dig in the plant too deep.
Only 2 to 4 inches of the root ball should be below the planter rim.
If it’s too deep, take out some soil to maintain the ideal depth.
Now, cover the surrounding of the plant and the roots with the remaining soil and tap the sides to settle it down.
If you transplant a garden plant, find a location without any barriers and plant the Hibiscus there.
Make sure that the soil is well-drained.
Add sand or gypsum to improve drainage, and add compost or other organic matters to improve retention.
Water the plant
Water the plant well by soaking the soil. Don’t overwater it.
You can also wait 1-2 days for the roots to heal.
After that, water them thoroughly.
Don’t just sprinkle water; instead, perform deep watering until it flows out of the drainage holes.
After watering the plant, add 1-2 inches of mulch at the base of the plant.
Organic mulches can improve the soil quality and also help to increase the humidity.
You can use leaf and bark mulch.
It will add some nutrients to the soil after decay.
Place them in an ideal location.
After repotting, shift the plant to a place that has bright but indirect sunlight for some days.
The plant might suffer transplant shock.
Once it recovers and settles well, shift them to a sunny spot and begin fertilizing in the growing months.
Don’t fertilize immediately after repotting. Wait for some weeks.
Rejuvenate the garden soil for grounded Hibiscus plants
Over time, the soil can become compact, for which the roots fail to spread.
Revitalizing the soil every year can help the plant remain healthy and even prevent root-bound.
- Check if the soil is dry or wet.
- Make a ball with some soil and flick it. If it falls apart, the soil is fine, but if the ball stays in shape, the soil is still wet and needs time to dry out.
- Once the soil is ready for use, dig up the plants and check the root area. Detangle the roots and remove the broken and damaged roots.
- Tilt the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil. Remove all the debris, roots, rocks, and weeds. Don’t dig too much as that can break the soil structure and prevent drainage and permeability.
- Now, spread 2-3 inches of organic matter or compost over the tilted area. Turn the compost over the tilted area to combine it with the soil.
- Use 1-inch compost with every 3 inches of soil. You can also add amendments like perlite, peat moss, coco coir, or vermiculite.
- Now, add a fertilizer over the soil bed (follow fertilizer article for application method). Mix it with the soil so that the plant can absorb it after planting.
- Plant the Hibiscus plant/s over it. Water the plant thoroughly to activate the fertilizer.
Dividing the Hibiscus plant
Generally, Hibiscus is divided when it gets bushy, but the roots are not yet bound.
If you find that your plant is very bushy and facing root-bound together, you can save the plant by dividing and transplanting it.
Here, you may not have to use a big container.
Along with root-bound signs, you may also see thin leaves, empty spots in the middle of the plant, and rare and small blooms.
It means that the root ball is failing to provide nutrition to all the parts of the big plant.
You have to select a ten-year-old plant for dividing.
Otherwise, the plant will not react well after division.
The best time to divide is early fall.
Here are the steps to divide the plant:
- Dig up the plant and clean the roots to look at its condition.
- Take a cutting tool and dip it into rubbing alcohol or bleach water to disinfect it.
- Cut through the root mass to make two equal pieces of the plant.
- Both the parts should have roots and ongoing top shoots.
- Also, cut off some damaged, broken, or rotted roots to prevent diseases.
- Now, plant the Hibiscus at an ideal location with well-drained soil and full sun. In the case of potted plants, use the same old size container and plant them in a well-drained potting mix. Keep them under filtered sunlight for some days.
- Don’t plant the Hibiscus too depth. Maintain the same depth as before.
- Water the plant deeply and soak the soil.
- Add a 2-inch layer of compost around the plant base as a mulch.
- Fertilize after the plant has recovered and settled.
Though Hibiscus will enjoy and bloom better in slightly root-bound conditions, it is necessary to repot when they show signs of extreme root-bound.
Look for signs like roots coming out of drainage holes or soil surface, pot swelling, plant experiencing underwatering, overwatering, and nutrient deficiency despite proper care.
Once you see these signs, consider checking the roots. If they are in a circular motion, repot the plant to a new pot.
Even the grounded plants will become root-bound if their surrounding space is limited or have borders like between walls or pipes.
Shift them to a place with no such barriers or limited space. The steps are the same as repotting.
Reference: Wikipedia, ASPCA, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, American Society for Horticultural Science, Tropical Hibiscus by Texas A&M University, Sciencedirect.