Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Root Pruning and Journey of Growth

Mary Stone, Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary Stone,Gardening tips, Garden Blogs, Stone Associates Landscape Design, Garden Blog,Northern New Jersey Landscape Designer, Early Spring Trasnplants, Root Pruning

Hello, fellow lovers of all things green. Last week, we spoke about Early Spring Transplants, and Brian of Stone Church, PA, asked about root pruning. Great question, Brian. And read on for how root pruning relates to the journey of growth in our lives.

Transplanting is always stressful for plants, especially for the feeder roots, which are most responsible for bringing nutrients and water to the plant. Pruning roots before a transplant will markedly help reduce transplant shock. It will also improve survival rates by encouraging the plant to produce new feeder roots within the future root ball to be moved. There are two ways to root prune.

The Spading Technique of Root Pruning 

One technique is called Spading – ideal for smaller trees and shrubs and those not in their current location for more than a few years. Using a sharp spade, cut a circle around the plant as deep as the spade’s depth and just inside the intended root ball. The basic rule of thumb for the proper size of a root ball is eight to twelve inches from the trunk for each inch of the caliper of the tree (the width of the trunk at chest height). So, a two-inch caliper tree should have a sixteen to twenty-four-inch-wide root ball.

Mary Stone, Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary Stone,Gardening tips, Garden Blogs, Stone Associates Landscape Design, Garden Blog,Northern New Jersey Landscape Designer, Early Spring Trasnplants, Root Pruning

Cut a circle around the plant just inside the intended root ball using a sharp spade (yes, this is a shovel. not ideal).

Root pruning should be done several months to a year before transplanting and more than a year before moving mature trees. Ideally, root prune in the fall for spring transplants. That way, the shrub or tree can put energy into new feeder roots over winter without the stress of supporting new plant growth. Root pruning in Spring can work for plants best transplanted in fall if you keep the soil moist during the growing season. However, I’d prefer you hold off until fall to root prune and move the plant the following fall to lessen the risk of plant stress. Call me cautious.

The Trenching Method of Root Pruning 

The other way to root prune is the Trenching Method, which is done in the same timing protocol as Spading. Professionals say digging a trench around a tree is better than the spade technique for mature trees. Spacing the trenching over time is wise for older established trees, say halfway around, then digging further around later in the season.

For larger trees, the trench should be twelve inches wide and twelve inches deep or more. As with Spading, dig the trench just inside the intended new root ball. Fill the trench with two parts topsoil mixed with one part compost to provide a cushy environment for the new feeder roots. Keeping the soil moist is critical for success. Deeply water when the soil is dry two or three inches below the surface.

Before you dig out the transplant, check for a thick web of fibrous feeder roots. If they are scarce, give the baby roots more time.

Brian shared his technique of using thick cardboard or a tarp to move a transplant quickly to its already-dug new location. That way, you can forgo a burlap wrap. No lingering with your roots exposed to the drying elements, though. Get her in the ground!

Mary Stone kneeling next to a blue spruce transplant wearing a grey sweatshirt and muddy pants. How Root Pruning Relates to Our Lives 

As we enter the new beginnings of Spring, I encourage you to review your roots and maybe prune some to make room for new feeder roots. To absorb the nutrition and the awareness of the new growth that you are on the cusp of feeling and growing as we shed some of the old ways of thinking engrained in our brains from our youth or perhaps more recent trauma. I believe we are all here for a journey of growth, and we can learn much from nature and our gardens, from their rhythms that parallel our lives and the dilemmas and delights that lead to discoveries that come from all that we gain from the lessons in the garden of life. It’s such a joy to share the journey with you.

Garden Dilemmas? and your favorite Podcast App.

There’s more to the story in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast (a soothing 10-minutes), including a personal Journey of Growth:

mary stone kneeling next to a comfort zone camp signMore about Comfort Zone Camp: featured in A Butterfly Garden of Growth

Enjoy one of the Mental Health Association’s events in A Sunflower Maze Brings Happiness.

If I may share my journey of recovery and growth:

A week ago I rose before sunrise to make my way to the Sussex County Technical School, Lafayette, NJ. Year three of volunteering to help staff the Comfort Zone Camp table at a Game of Life event. Comfort Zone Camp is a bereavement camp for kids and young adults. I’ve volunteered for about nine years since my brother Bill passed away.

A dear client, Suzanne Sarner, is the Director of the School-based Youth Services Program (or Student Center for short). They began the Game of Life 16 years ago to help our youth learn about available community resources. Agencies from all over the county participate.

Students are given scenarios of challenges that can happen in life. Then, visit the community resource agencies attending The Game of Life to learn about their services. Services include physical and mental health, domestic violence, substance abuse, housing support services, and grief and loss.

I pause in gratitude for my growth from a year ago when my blood pressure went from normal to stroke levels in a matter of a few weeks. The journey of diagnostics came with some frightening findings that gratefully were later ruled out. But I was in the thick of things at the event last year.

It was an eye-opening experience… 
Two middle aged woman standing behind a desk with a Mental Health Associates Banner.

Annette Hoffman and Carrie Parmelee of the Mental Health Association

Something drew me to speak with Annette and Carrie, who were staffing the Mental Health Association’s table. I shared what was going on with my health and at home and asked if I was a candidate for their counseling services. The Mental Health Association supports families and friends of individuals with mental illness and offers early intervention support services. I have benefited from their help.

It was an eye-opening experience… 

A litany of medical tests concluded that I was not handling stress very well, internalizing it rather than finding ways to cope. Understanding the circumstances at home was part of that journey, allowing me to cope better to learn self-care techniques. I should preface all this by saying that many of the challenges we endure stem from our roots. Circumstances of today that we experience can trigger memories of the past, often subconsciously. The isolation I felt at home reminded me of the loneliness I felt as a child, as well as during my marriage, ruined by the neglect and isolation of addiction.

It’s been eye-opening to experience the dramatic effect of emotional health on my physical health. Gratefully, there are strategies to improve our emotional health not only by talking to a professional. I can’t say enough how much walking in nature or tending to gardens helps. There’s scientific evidence to prove it, as discussed in the story about Forest Bathing.

One of the last students to visit the Comfort Zone Camp table shared she lost her Mom when she was 14. “I’d like to go to camp. I hope my dad will let me go this year.” We invited her to fill out the application so she can join the camp, which is free for families. “I hope to see you at camp,” I told the young lady. And I hope we do.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story. If you’d like to share the growth you’ve gained in the garden of life, I’d love to hear about your journey by emailing me at

Helpful Links:

Mental Health Association (serving Northern NJ) supports families and friends of individuals with mental illness. And offers early intervention support services.

For Support Nationwide, contact NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness)


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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