Spider plants are one of my favorite houseplants to keep, but they can become root-bound pretty quickly. But how does this affect the overall health of the plant?
Spider plants can thrive when slightly root-bound as this condition can promote the growth of flowers and spiderettes (also called spider plant babies). This only lasts for so long, however, as after a while the drainage holes will become blocked and the soil will start to lack nutrients as the roots become tightly intertwined.
In this guide I’ll walk you through my experience with root-bound spider plants and how to take care of your spider plant if you suspect it is root-bound.
What Does ‘Root-Bound’ Mean
Root-bound is simply a term used to describe when a plant’s roots – in this case the spider plant – become ‘bound’ by the pot that they are in. In simple terms, the roots just run out of space to grow.
The root-bound state is quite interesting because it isn’t something that would be commonly observed in nature; usually any plant has plenty of room for its roots to continue growing.
How Quickly Can Spider Plants Become Root-Bound?
Spider plants take about a year or two of growth in the same pot to become root-bound, depending on how fast they are growing in the given conditions.
How To Check If Your Spider Plant Is Root Bound
A simple check I like to do every so often is to first check the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot to make sure they aren’t blocked by roots, as this can be a major issue (more on this later).
I also like to gently remove my spider plant from its pot and look at the roots from the side to see if there is still plenty of soil amongst the roots, and how the roots are wrapping around the root ball.
If the roots are only slightly wrapped around the root ball then this is a good indication that your spider plant is only slightly root-bound – whereas tightly wrapped roots (and lots of them) are an indication of a severe root-bound state.
Another easy way to tell if your spider plant is root-bound is to look at the surface of the soil. If roots are growing out of the soil at the top then it is definitely root-bound, and quite severely in this case.
Why Root-Bound Conditions Can Be Beneficial For A Spider Plant
If the roots are only wrapping around the root ball slightly and the drainage holes are clear then your spider plant is only a little root-bound.
When It Becomes A Problem
There’s root-bound, and then there’s root-bound – let me explain.
When a spider plant first becomes root-bound it is beneficial for the plant, but after a period of time, the roots will continue growing and block the drainage holes completely and extract most of the nutrients from the soil.
This is why spider plants can’t stay root-bound forever, and it’s why I recommend leaving them root bound for around a year or so before repotting.
Deteriorated Soil Quality
As the roots continue to grow there may end up being more roots than soil, which causes the nutrient density of the soil to decrease drastically due to the competition between the roots.
The soil mix will also hold less moisture from watering, which is why some root-bound spider plants exhibit symptoms of underwatering – at least until the drainage holes become blocked.
Blocked Drainage Holes
If the drainage holes are blocked then overwatering becomes almost a certainty.
Overwatering a spider plant can lead to several issues such as wilting and discolored leaves and even root rot which can kill the plant.
What To Do If Your Spider Plant Is Suffering From Root-Bound Problems (4 Easy Steps)
If your spider plant has become too root-bound and is suffering from blocked drainage holes and deteriorated soil quality then it’s time to repot.
Repotting a spider plant is actually quite easy, the method I use is laid out below:
1. Remove From Pot
Spider plants should be relatively easy to remove from their pots if they are root-bound, simply grab the base of the plant gently and pull while twisting.
If you’re struggling the roots may have attached to the drainage holes and will need to be trimmed using a sterilised trimming tool. You may also need to run a sterilised knife down the sides of the pot to release the plant, although this is less common.
2. Rinse The Roots + Health Check
The next step is to gently rinse the roots with tap water. While doing this use your hands to move the roots and get rid of soil.
At this point, we are looking for symptoms of root rot as root-bound plants are susceptible to root rot due to poor drainage (remember the blocked drainage holes?). Healthy roots should look white and thick, with no signs of turning mushy or discolored.
You may also see tubers as well, but they are completely normal so don’t worry!
3. Trim The Roots
If the roots are healthy then the next step is to trim them.
When root-bound, the roots closer to the edge of the pot can become damaged due to limited space. Trim these roots using a sterilised trimming tool, and any other roots that are damaged.
After this, use a pair of gloves and gently pull the roots that are bound around the root ball to release them. You don’t have to be very gentle, and the idea here is to release as many roots as possible so that they are hanging down rather than rightly-bound.
In very severe cases of root-bound spider plants, you will need to cut into the root ball to release some of the roots.
When repotting a spider plant fill the bottom with soil and then gently place the plant on top. Fill in the edges and water thoroughly and then continue care as normal.
Here are my key tips for making sure the process goes smoothly:
- Choose The Right Size Container – I always opt for an inch or two of extra space on either side to allow new root growth.
- Optimal Soil Mix – Spider plants do well with most houseplant soil mixes, but make sure you choose one that has a good amount of organic material like coco-coir and peat moss. Well-draining soil is also much better than soil that holds a lot of moisture, as it will help to prevent overwatering.
- Drainage Holes – Drainage holes are essential, and I generally try to choose a pot that has at least 4 drainage holes in the bottom.
Over the next few weeks monitor your spider plant closely, and that’s it!