You might remember from a previous post that I made a pledge not to rush the planting of summer annuals. It really wasn't hard this year because last fall's pansies looked so good this spring. As a matter of fact, it was hard a few days ago, when I finally decided it was time for the seasonal switch, to pull up plants that still look pretty.
But May is prime time for plants to get established: usually just the right amount of heat and rain. I haven't done my shopping for annuals yet, but I was picking up some paint at one of the big box stores the other day, and you know that I cannot pass by the garden center without checking out the clearance rack. I found a few Supertunias on the rack (I think Supertunias are generally superior to Wave petunias in my garden), and I bought them. So I had a few plants on hand that I wanted to get in the ground before the rain got here.
When I took the plant out of its container, the roots looked like this. The imprint of the bottom of the pot is clearly visible where the roots have encircled the pot and become a hard mass. So before planting, I scratched up the roots along the edges of the pot just a little. Since the roots at the bottom were in such a wad, I cut into them at several points (with my new hori-hori knife, of course) and spread the roots. This plant had a lot of good roots, and I didn't worry about injuring it.
While doing this, I thought of a recent question my brother asked me. A few days ago, we were planting vegetables plants in his garden. When he popped the plant out of its container, he immediately started to loosen up the roots. But the plant in his hand was not exceptionally well-rooted and had only delicate, white roots that did not need to be loosened. When I told him that it was okay just to plant it, he said, "I thought you were suppose to loosen up the roots before you planted."
I'm sure this is one of those things that varies by gardener, but here's my strategy. If the roots are in a tight mass, I loosen them where they are tight. For instance, in the example to the left, I would spread the bottom roots a little to ensure that they do not continue to grow in a circular fashion. But if the plant's roots are not overcrowded, I don't disturb them more than necessary.
Sometimes the plants we buy have developed very few roots, and the roots they have need to be treated gently. Sometimes they have been sitting in a container too small for them, and their roots have filled the container and need to be loosened and redirected. Like most things in life, what you should do depends on the situation you find yourself in.