The practice of making a planting hole with an auger and stuffing in a young plant can cause problems as the plant grows. Although handy for quick planting, in heavy clay soils this practice is contributing to the demise of many young hazelnuts, but we have seen the problem also in hemp, grapes, fir trees, and hardy kiwi. The problem is made worse when the plants have been too long in a pot before being planted out. A multiplicity of problems can ensue, including girdling roots. These are roots that wrap around stems or themselves. As both the roots and stems grow, the root can choke the stem, leading to reduced growth and performance or dieback.

The wrapping of roots around themselves also reduces the amount of soil area from which water can be absorbed, leading to water stress in the summer.

“J” or “L” rooting of plants refers to roots that head back up instead of growing down (J root), or roots that take a turn and grow sideways in an “L” shape. These configurations and other root distortions leads to changes in the partitioning of the plant’s resources and can result in reduced carbohydrate (plant food) storage in stems, reduced photosynthesis, and other maladies that can lead to decline. Plants under this type of nutrient (or water) stress are more susceptible to heat stress and sun scald, insect damage, and disease infection.

The best way to prevent this dire future is to plant the trees properly, which will require extra time and probably expense. But it will pay off in the long run.

Girdling roots led to dieback of this grape plant.

Root on the left is aiming back to the surface (“J”-rooted), while other roots grow straight down. There should be more lateral spread of the roots to enhance water uptake.

A badly pot-bound hemp plant taken from the field.

A strongly “L”-rooted grape.