What Is Air Pruning?

Root growth is a huge issue when you’re growing in containers, especially for anything that will be transplanted later.

One way to keep your plant roots in better shape is to take advantage of containers that are made to allow air pruning.

What Is Air Pruning?

Air pruning describes a process where plant roots automatically dry up near the edges of a growing container.

As the roots reach the edge of the container, air flows in through the sides and dries up the roots. This causes them to die off on the ends and stop growing outward. In their place, the plant will grow multiple secondary roots that branch off around the main roots.

Air pruning explained

Air pruning only happens when plants grow in containers made from porous materials that allow airflow into the soil around the bottom and edges. The main containers that allow air pruning are:

  • Fabric grow bags
  • Air pruning pots
  • Porous hanging baskets

You can also set up custom systems with wire mesh and individual, paper growing capsules for short-term propagation. This makes sense in a plant nursery or farming context when you need to propagate a large number of seeds, saplings, or cuttings for transplanting later.

Is Air Pruning Good?

The main benefit of air pruning is the prevention of bad root growth, such as clumping, circling, binding, tangling, and upward root growth from below.

Air pruning is aptly named because it’s similar to pruning branches and leaves on a growing plant. While it seems like a bad thing to kill a growing edge of a plant, it ends up stimulating new, healthier growth elsewhere on the plant.

Instead of trimming the end of branches, air pruning works to “trim” the growing end of roots naturally.

Root growth in containers

The result is a fibrous root system that densely fills the container space. It’s a very healthy way of growing roots that helps the plant access more water and nutrients from all around the soil without the roots competing against each other.

Air pruning leads to some great benefits for plants, including:

  • Healthier root growth
  • Increased success of transplants
  • Reduced root rot & disease
  • Continued new root growth
  • Staying healthy longer while growing in the same container

All these benefits contribute to the overall health of the plant and its long-term success, especially if you’re propagating from seeds or cuttings to transplant later.

Does Air Pruning Have Disadvantages?

Although there are a lot of tangible benefits to air pruning, it’s not practical in all situations. Because air pruned roots take up more water and nutrients, you may need to water and fertilize your containers more often.

Adding compost to the top of the soil and hanging your containers vertically can help to keep them going well without costing extra or taking up additional resources in your home garden.

Sheltering plants from strong wind can also help reduce the frequency of watering. This is especially true for hanging baskets, as they get airflow from all sides and already need regular watering and fertilizing.

If you’re unable to water and fertilize plants more regularly, air pruning may not be the best choice for your garden. Or, if you’re growing short-term seasonal plants in containers, rather than long-term plants that will need to be transplanted.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a growing container that allows air pruning (such as a grow bag or specialized plant pot) can help you grow healthier plants and reap a better harvest.

Related: What Can You Grow in a Grow Bag?

If air pruning makes sense for your garden, try planting in a growing container that allows more airflow to reach the soil. It might be the next step for you to improve your container garden!

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