Dracaena Plants

How Can I Undo the Roots Entertangled

garden lover added on April 26, 2013 | Answered

I have rescued a plant from an elderly couple where I work. It was dying, stunted and root bound coming out at the bottom of the container roots coming right threw it. It is a Dracaena and a Ficus, and another form of dracaena with long pointed sharp leaves and more branches shooting out now, all living together in one container. It is hard to believe the size was so small they were in, the ones living in each others way though, is the Draceana, which is to be around 10 ft. tall, and Ficus, and that draceana, is directly under the ficus and is about 1 foot and a half tall getting wide too.  I got a large round container and gave them some good potting soil. They are doing so well. I have had them now for about 2 months and they have lived together like this for 4 years there roots are intertwinded you can't tell whose are whose in a circle.

When I took it into a nursery, he said to separate them is too much shock and it was hard to know how. He said I could cut down the Dracaena so it never bothers the ficus, but I hate to see it never get to grow, or he said, I could cut it down below the soil and might end it growing all together or cut it in half and transplant it, but still the roots will be left in the container with the others. I know they all can't live together like this any longer and should have been separated long ago before I got them. When I realized the Dracaena was to grow to be even 10 ft. or so and the Ficus is somewhat of a tree like plant, this is very sad. Since it is trying to grow threw the Ficus right now,   there is no room for what is going on.

They look healthy and green but they are in a dilemma and so am I. They are flourishing since the new container, but for how long and being root tangled? Each one needs to be considered. Does anybody know how I can divide them? I don't want to shock or hurt them by anything radical I have to do, but maybe if I have to cut them away from each other and ruin each of them doing so, what then?    If any one could tell me what are my chances for them to survive in another container separately after that and what method to use in doing so, what soil, etc.

Now I am thinking, I wonder if they will miss each other. Gosh since my dog went on to heaven,  I am talking to them all the time. Believe it or not the ficus move slightly when I am near and say something. When they first got here. I think I scared them when I went up to them. They had been neglected and alone so much in a far corner. I literally saw them sort of shake. I walk over to them softly now, ha ha. Thanks so much.

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Certified GKH Gardening Expert
Answered on April 29, 2013

I would agree with the nurseryman that separating them would likely be too much of a shock. The larger the plant, the more likely that shock will set in if their roots are disturbed.

They can grow happily together as long as they each get enough fertilizer and water. You can treat them as one massive plant and repot them together in new larger containers as they outgrow this one.

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Answered on May 1, 2013

Oooh, what a mess that sounds like. And what a dilemma. You have a choice to make - whether to leave them together as the nursery guy and Heather suggest, or to separate them anyway. Under the choice of separating, a few things come to mind. Bonsai growers routinely cut roots. Sometimes, if they are putting a plant into a bonsai pot after it has been growing for several years in a nursery pot, they could cut off 3/4 or more of the roots. I think people often don't realize how vigorous roots are, especially if the plant is healthy and vigorous looking.

You might want to do some research on bonsai - just google bonsai, bonsai methods, or root pruning. You'll be able to spend a couple of days just reading through all this stuff.

Here's what I would do, if I decided to separate a bunch like this. Pull them out of the pot, and carefully start to tease the soil away from the roots, and to straighten out the roots and disentangle them. This will probably take quite awhile. You'll probably be surprised how much you can separate the roots. Then I would take a small hand saw, a pair of pruners, and a sharp knife, and start cutting them apart. This will also probably take quite awhile.
When they're separated I would repot each with fast draining, coarse soil mix, put into moderate light, water correctly, and wait. Maybe it will work,maybe not. Ya' takes yur chances, as the old saying goes.

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