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by Carole Schwalm Picture of small cacti growing in containers.

This time of year, fewer and fewer plants are available in your local nursery. The plants that are there are older and may be root or pot bound. Look very closely at the plant before you buy to ensure that it is healthy. This isn’t to say that if it looks a little sad and you want to take it home and give it a chance or that you should turn your back on it. You might, however, if your nursery person is kindhearted, be able to negotiate the price a little lower.

I just returned from the nursery with two grape plants with a discount because they were a bit sad, but generally healthy. They were pot-bound and the nursery didn’t want to repot them and I did. My theory is that it never hurts to ask. All someone can do is say, “No” and I understand.

Picture of several clay pot containers stacked upside down. Your root or pot bound plants have roots trailing out of the drainage holes. The roots that do so are not receiving any nourishment stifling the growth and flower or vegetable production on the plant itself. The plant has probably used up most of the available nourishment in the soil so the roots inside the pot aren’t in the best condition either. There may be heavy top growth, but chances are you will see brown, dead leaves and stems.

If you sense that this plant, even with its straggly outside the drainage hole roots, and with its few brown leaves and stems needs to come home with you, by all means take it. It has already won your heart, as my grape plants did. Do you have the right next-size pot to the plant’s current container? If you don’t have one purchase it. If you do not have good potting soil at home, buy some of that too. You need to provide immediate life support when you get home. Also before you leave the nursery look at the plant’s climate. A good nursery grows plants in the proper conditions for the type of plant it is. You want to try to maintain the climate at least initially, until the plant gets a good start.

Picture of several container pots in front of a window At home, start by washing out the new pot. Adequately prepare the drainage hole in the pot, using shards. Put a layer of new, nutritious soil on the bottom of the container. Un-pot the plant from the old container and set it on top of the new soil. Carefully untangle the roots a bit. This is a good time to inspect the roots. You may need to prune them, especially if some of them are matted and unhealthy looking.

One of the keywords in any repotting effort is “carefully.” As you remove the plant from the old pot, tip the plant and the pot while carefully supporting the root ball.

It is possible to leave the plant in the old container. Here, just prune the roots or shave off a few inches of the roots with a sharp knife. If the plant is small, shave off one-inch. If large, you can remove between 4 and 5 inches of the roots, and this will stimulate growth.

Water sparingly for a few weeks. This encourages roots to grow into the new soil. The weather is hot, the Sun is strong: try to shield the plant until it recovers from the repotting.

Share your container gardening experience or if you'd like more information.