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Small Plants Grow Big Fast

young root system

If you want plants that will grow fast and fill your garden with flowers and foliage, shop for healthy, 'active' roots in small pots. Plants in big containers are often already stalled out and can be difficult to grow to a larger size.

How Small Plants Can Outgrow Larger Ones in a Single Season

Plants want to grow - that is their goal in life! From the moment a seed or root sprouts into visible green growth, your plant is on a mission to become big and strong. Like all living creatures, a plant's biological mission is to be healthy enough to reproduce and secure their specie's presence well into the future.

But not all plant sellers support your plant's fast-growth mission.

Many big box stores for example, put their effort into making a plant look like a bargain - with big leaves and flowers hanging over the sides of a large pot. Most consumers assume that this big, low-priced specimen is a steal. However, upon closer inspection, you're likely to find a root system that is incapable of getting the plant to grow much bigger than it already is.

A much better deal is to purchase smaller plants with active root systems, at a fraction of the cost, and watch them outgrow those big box specials within one or two seasons.

Active Root systems are in the constant process of creating new roots to seek out and absorb nutrients, which help the plant grow fast and strong.

plants with active root systems
handing holding a plant root system

"Fast to take off. I used it to fill in space in a flower bed and the first year it did more than I figured it would take 3 years to do. I planted it and mulched it, and then it was on it's own."

Sparky from Illinois

The beauty of buying your plants via mail order from a company like American Meadows (aside from the improved selection), is that our plants are primed to grow active roots. Professional horticulturalists care for your plants with special attention to root formation, up until two key moments intersect:

  1. Your plants are still small enough to be affordable. There's no need to continue growing them to a larger size, as extra soil, daily care, and increased shipping rates all lead to the higher prices that accompany plants in larger pots. Once you get them in the garden, they'll be off and running.
  3. Your garden soil is warm enough to support active root growth at transplant time. Your plants' roots will take their cues directly from the ground, so they are shipped direct to your door at a time that will inspire them to grow big and strong.

Most gardeners who experience the results of correctly-cared for mail order plants never go back to buying slow-to-grow, big box specials. It's too expensive and often leads to disappointment and frustration when the plants don't perform.


How Active Root Systems Work To Make Plants Grow

Root systems are actually made up of several types of roots that shoot out in different directions as they work to achieve various tasks, such as anchoring the plant into the soil and accessing nutrients. In a plant's young life, its ability to absorb nutrients is the most critical factor in determining how quickly it will grow big.

Root Hairs are solely responsible for absorbing soil nutrients. Healthy plants will have numerous root hairs.

Root hairs, who only live for a single day, grow on fibrous, tissue-based roots. By coaxing your young plant to produce as many fibrous roots as possible, you'll also be encouraging more root hairs to grow. Considering the short lifespan of a root hair and their role as the only nutrient absorber, this strategy is crucial to the overall health of your plant and its rate of growth!

phlox root system

This Phlox plant's root system needs to be 'disturbed' or 'roughed up' by the gardener before planting, to make certain that lateral roots continue to form away from the plant.

forysthia in planting container

This Forysthia plant's ribbed container creates pockets that cause roots to 'air prune' themselves. When a root tip is exposed to air, it dies off and a new root forms.

coral bell plant

This Coral Bell plant is actively growing tissue-based roots and root hairs. While the root system may seem underdeveloped to the eye, it's primed and ready to grow.

Video: How to Plant Potted Perennial


How to Inspire Root Hair Growth in Young Plants

The easiest way to get your young seedlings to produce an abundance of fibrous roots and root hairs, is by making certain that the roots themselves are constantly regenerating. To do this, you'll want to prune your roots, or better yet, allow them to prune themselves.

Above ground, gardeners and landscapers prune trees to encourage them to sprout new, fresh growth. Pruning is a careful task: cut the top 'leader' off a tree and stunt its growth forever, but make several 'lateral' (horizontal) cuts to encourage sideways growth, and you'll be rewarded with a lot more fruit.

Below ground, the same rules apply! While you'll want to leave any long, plunging 'tap roots' alone, carefully disturbing or cutting lateral roots will cause them to regenerate, creating a plethora of nutrient-seeking root hairs to develop upon the new growth.

Air Pruning: Let Your Plants Give Themselves A DIY Root HairCut

Though you may have to rely on root pruning techniques when moving and dividing plants, it's just not realistic that you would be managing this process as your plants grow from seed. A better path is to find a way to get your plants to manage root regeneration on their own.

This is where air pruning comes in.

For the most part, air pruning takes place at the nursery, so gardeners are rarely involved in the process. By using specialized containers and other techniques, horticulturalists expose plant roots to air to create intentional die-off. As soon as a fibrous (tissue-based) root dies, another forms and becomes covered in root hairs. Woody roots (where no root hairs grow) are able to withstand air exposure much longer than fibrous roots.

Buying plants from sellers who employ air pruning and other root-growth stimulating techniques is a great way to find the fastest-growing plants for your garden.

What Happens When Roots Are Not Pruned Or Active?

The flipside of all this healthy root talk, is what to expect from a plant that has not been primed to grow, or does not have an active root system. This is actually a very common scenario, found in plants that sit for too long at the nursery after their ideal planting time, and at many big box stores where roots are not the focus.

The most tell-tale sign of a plant that is unlikely to grow beyond the size of its planting hole, is the presence of circularly-formed roots, spiraling around the pot more than once.