Five little lavenders…four years later

If you’ve been following us for a while, you might remember a post from August 2009 when I got cranky about a pot of lavenders with horrendous root systems.  I intervened with my Felcos and planted out the patients, hoping for the best.
Lavender #2 before root pruning

In July of 2010, I gave an update on their progress.  At that point, one of the lavenders had died but the other four were perking along. And now it’s time to show them in their floral glory:

Root washing is still controversial, as is corrective root pruning.  However, all five of these plants would have died had I not corrected the spiraling root systems.  Published and ongoing research at several places around the country continues to support the practice of bare-rooting and correcting root flaws of woody plants.

Is this a practice that the landscape industry will adopt?  Probably not on a large scale: it is time intensive and requires careful work.  But home gardeners can do this themselves and have done so successfully.

If you’re interested in more information on how to do this, you can download this fact sheet.  Until production nurseries change their practices to avoid these fatal root flaws, it will be up to home gardeners and a handful of landscapers to repair the damage.

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

9 thoughts on “Five little lavenders…four years later”

  1. Reading the Fact sheet:
    “Do not loosen or otherwise disturb the soil at the bottom of the hole.”

    Why not? I have very compacted, rocky soil, so I tend to dig down a few more inches and then backfill to give them a chance to grow in that direction if they need it.

    Last tree I planted had awful roots when I took it out of the pot. There was no way it would survive long if planted as-is. You should have seen the look of horror on my boyfriend’s face as I starting washing and pulling apart (and pulling out) root clumps and knots. The tree is doing just fine.

  2. Nicole, the problem with digging the hole too deep is that your tree will eventually settle below grade as the loosened soil compactcs. The recommended practice by professionals is to dig the hole no deeper than the root mass and at least twice as wide. Root establishment is generally horizontal rather than vertical, so loosening up the surrounding soil helps this process.
    I’m glad to hear of your success with root washing and pruning! I experienced the same looks of horror from my husband who was convinced I’d kill our new redbud. Which nine years later is a beautiful, 15′ tall tree.

  3. That makes sense and I’ll keep it in mind. I’m not sure it applies here, though, or at least I haven’t had that problem. It’s billy goat territory here and I almost always have a fine line between below grade on one side and above grade on the other. I try to err on the side of above grade anyway for drainage purposes.

  4. Glad this practice is catching on. Next, maybe we can convince the nurseries to stop creating the problem to begin with.

    But I am reminded of a story Bonnie Appleton told when she taught a seminar about it. After deciding she wanted to promote the practice, she registered the name”Bare-rooting.” Then an Aussie informed her the phrase means “unprotected sex” Down Under. A funny story that might give us all pause as we think about how to promote more root manipulation and remediation.

  5. Thanks for this. A pomegranate I planted 3 years ago seemed to have problems. The hurricane last year knocked it over and when propping it back up I noticed the largest root is spiral. I tried straightening it, but it would have snapped off, along with the majority of root growth. It seems to be standing on its own now, and is covered in new growth and bloom, but I continue to watch it anxiously. Do you think the worst is past, or it’s hopeless?

  6. Great followup post, Linda — the wait was worth it! Your lavenders look wonderful, and the fact sheet is the first one I’ve seen addressing container-grown woody plants. Now I have something to refer people to…thanks.

  7. These lavenders are quite beautiful! Thank you for bringing something on root washing technique. Many of my friends observed this technique as very beneficial..

  8. I’ve done this frequently with big-box-store cacti in the past which are usually nasty conglomerations of roots bound in peat and perlite. Soak them an take off all the soil possible. That peat mixture just isn’t compatible with nearly any other medium you’d use.

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