A GROWING CONCERN: Little-known root prune begets great benefits

WELL, WE ARE certainly into December, as the temperatures, even for the low of the day, are in the mid to upper 40s with highs in the 50s.

In fact, I love that I still have dahlias at several clients’ gardens.

This is also precisely why I warned about premature bulb planting here on our fantastically mild Olympic Peninsula and why I wait to plant into this time of year.

For all of you: It is still not too late to go out and buy spring bulbs at massive discounts and plant them because, after all, you never have enough bulbs (ever!).

Just remember that bone meal is the miracle drug of the bulb world, so apply quite liberally.

And do remember that with our warm (and very wet) climate of recent, it can be “too late” to remove leaves from your perennials, ground covers and grasses.

These leaves can begin to “mat up” and rot away rather quickly and thus cause great harm to some of your precious plants.

Please remove large leaves every few days off your sensitive plants and perennials.

But now, to a subject I promised weeks ago: root pruning.

Root pruning is a very old and time-honored technique used to rejuvenate old orchard trees, blooming plants, shrubs and vines.

Unfortunately, this method of pruning is little-known or employed, yet it has great advantages.

The best tool for this job is a very sharp (and oiled-down) trenching shovel, preferably one that has foot pads.

A trenching shovel is a long (18 inches to 24 inches) metal bladed shovel that is only 4 inches to 6 inches wide.

This is the tool for the technique because it is long enough to “prune” the feeder roots that grow below the surface of the soil.

It is also thin enough to not only be able to thrust down deep into the ground but thin enough as well to work around the rocks most of us have in our soil.

It is also extremely wise to root prune in very wet soil, which allows, with greater ease, the ability to cut down (prune) to a depth of 14 inches or more.

This is also why a sharpened trenching shovel is far better, and it is wise to oil it up several times as you root prune away because the oil will not allow the clay and silt particles to adhere to the blade of the shovel.

Many old orchard trees, vines and blooming woody plants produce far less flower and fruit as the plant gets large and elderly. Their root system becomes inadequate.

If one goes out to the “drip line” (i.e., the foliage line or the extent of the leaves) or ever-so-slightly inside that line, this is an area of immense roots and the ideal area to root prune.

By thrusting down into the soil a continuous, unbroken shovel line around the entire plant, one prunes these roots with “heading cuts.”

As in all heading cuts, the result is for that section of plant to make abundant new growth at the spot of the prune.

This new, massive amount of feeder roots at the drip line, a source of moisture, stimulates the plant, and the results are new buds, flowers, fruits and nuts.

It is wise to add a source of phosphorus to the area, as this nutrient promotes root growth and again bone meal is readily available and an inexpensive source of phosphorous.

Happy root pruning, everyone!


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsula dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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