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Root-bound Succulents- What They Look Like & How To Fix Them

I often talk about root bound succulents but I've just realized I never really explained in depth what this means.

In a way it's exactly what it sounds like. The roots are bound by something, however, there is more to it than that. In this article we'll define what a root bound succulent is how, it can affect different succulents. whether it's good or bad and how to fix them.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, if a plant is root bound its roots have filled the container it is growing in and it stops growing well. The roots of root bound plants grow densely, in a spiralling mass and completely take over the inside of the pot.

When you have a severely root-bound plant, it is often hard to see any potting mix at all. Succulents that are root bound have used all of the available nutrients they had which will trigger a stress response.

How Succulents Respond to Being Root Bound

Different succulents can have a different response to being root bound. Many will start losing bottom leaves, some can stop growing all together and may even eventually die.

Most succulents when root bound will start getting stressed and growing more compact. Their leaves will become chubbier and less spaced out. Many will develop longer stalks, dropping bottom leaves and maintaining just a few leaves concentrated on the top, growing tightly together.

Rootbound versus non rootbound succulent
These are both Graptopetalum paraguayense. The left is rootbound while the one on the right is not.

Another way succulents respond to being root bound is by displaying colour. Having roots squashed is stressful business and extra colour can be a good tell tale sign.

Many succulents deal with being root bound by trying to find greener pastures, concentrating their efforts into growing out of their pot in the hope they'll hit more fertile grounds/

It's also very common for root bound succulents to grow aerial roots.

Succulents that produce Farina, the dusty white coating on the leaves, tend to have a thicker layer when root bound.

Is Root Bound Good Or Bad

All in all, having root bound succulents does not seem ideal but it is not always bad.

Succulents are well adapted to having a stressful life in the wild. You would often find them in some pretty inhospitable environments where not many other plants would thrive and, while many of these adaptations will cause succulents to drop leaves, the other responses succulents have can save them from getting burned by hot sun.

To put this into context, when succulents have plenty of space, especially during their growing season, they will grow rapidly and many will open up producing wider longer leaves.

But when they are like this and a hot sunny day comes along they can easily get burned. The fresh new growth rarely has good enough Farina which acts like a sunscreen for plants to protect from harmful UV. But when succulents are root bound, they will not grow as rapidly or big and the Farina will be thicker. This can often save them from a rogue hot day in Spring.

Root bound succulents also generally look nicer, they are more colourful and compact. I often stress some types of succulents by having them root bound on purpose.

But there is a fine line between having healthy root bound succulents and root bound succulents that are slowly dying. The leaf loss can get quite severe and many succulents will start looking pretty sad as they get more and more root bound.

Another massive con of having root bound plants, even if they are not looking too bad, are root mealy bugs. The more root bound a succulent gets, the higher the chance of root mealy bugs moving in.

Root mealybugs on root bound succulent
Root mealybugs on root bound succulent

If you're keeping a plant root bound on purpose it's a good idea to check the roots regularly. This way if mealy bugs appear you'll be able to nip it in the bud.

How To Fix Root Bound Succulents

The simplest way to fix root bound succulents is to repot into larger pot or the the same pot using fresh potting mix.

When reporting root bound succulents do make sure to clean up dead and dying leaves. Mealybugs like to lay their eggs in dead leaves and it will also create a bit of airflow.

The third option to deal with root bound succulents is to separate where possible. This can be done with plants that have multiple heads or branches that can be divided. All of the separate bits can then be planted into individual pots. This is a great way of multiplying your succulents.

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