Check the Roots before you buy!

Black Berry Canes

Last Year’s Blackberries

Last Spring, we purchased 12 blackberry plants, each in a 1-gallon container. We checked for varieties that would grow in this area and planted them in a raised bed. The plants (all 12 of them) died within two weeks of the first sign of wilting. Why?

These dead plants were dug up to make room for the onions planted in early February. Once out of the ground, the problem was obvious. Notice how the roots are in the shape of a much smaller container–the plant was probably kept in a “too small” container for too long—causing the roots to grow in circles.

Blackberry Roots

Blackberry Roots

The plants were well-developed and appeared healthy. After being planted, the plants added growth and appeared to thrive for about a month before the summer temperatures effected them; then, wilting was followed by brown, dead plants.

Closer inspection indicates peat pellets were used to support the roots (see the mesh pointed out in the picture below). The red arrows point to the top remnants of a peat pellet mesh. (Had I removed this mesh, it would have crumbled apart, so I left it on the bundled roots.)

Pot-Bound Blackberry Roots

Pot-Bound Blackberry Roots

In a greenhouse, or similar controlled environment, plants can thrive with enough fertilizer and water — these plants were not viable outside of a greenhouse. The plants were not stressed by the cool May temperatures last year (we had a very unusual freeze in early May, 2013); however, as the temperatures rose, these roots could not support the plant—at least not in an outdoor garden in this area.

Rule of Thumb — As the roots go, so goes the plant. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of Spring gardening, however, from now on, I will always check the roots before purchasing — especially with larger plants like shrubs and trees. Healthy new roots generally appear white. Had we checked these roots, the plants would have stayed at the gardening store.

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