Air Pruning: The Benefits of Promoting Healthy Roots in Plants

Growing healthy plants starts with healthy roots, and air pruning is a technique that can promote robust root development. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, air pruning can be a valuable practice to help you achieve your gardening goals.

Air Pruning

In this article, we will explore the benefits of air pruning, how it works, and how to incorporate this technique into your gardening routine to grow stronger, healthier plants.

What Is Air Pruning?

Air pruning is a horticultural technique that involves pruning or trimming the roots of plants by exposing them to air. This technique is commonly used to promote healthy root growth in plants, especially those grown in containers. When plant roots grow into the air, they encounter drier conditions, essentially pruning themselves. This triggers the development of more roots from the main root stem and root hairs which increase the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients.

What Are The Benefits Of Air Pruning?

Air pruning provides several benefits to plants, including:

Promotes Healthy Root Growth

Air pruning promotes the growth of a dense, fibrous root system that is better equipped to absorb water and nutrients from the soil. This results in healthier and stronger plants with improved resistance to pests and diseases.

Prevents Root Bound Plants

Traditional container gardening methods can lead to root-bound plants, which occurs when roots grow in circles around the container, becoming tangled and constricted. Air pruning prevents this by forcing the roots to grow in a more natural, widespread pattern, resulting in better root development and overall plant health.

Enhances Nutrient Absorption

Air pruning encourages the development of root hairs, which increase the surface area of the root system, allowing for improved absorption of water and nutrients.

Reduces Overwatering and Root Rot

Excess water can drain away from the roots in air pruning containers, reducing the risk of overwatering and root rot.

Increases Transplant Success

Air-pruned plants have a more extensive root system that is better equipped to handle the stress of transplanting, resulting in improved transplant success rates.

Saves Time and Money

Air pruning containers are durable, reusable, and long-lasting, which reduces the need for frequent replacements and saves time and money in the long run.

These benefits make it a valuable technique for gardeners looking to improve the health and vitality of their plants.

How Do You Air Prune Your Seedlings?

Air pruning plant seedlings typically involves using a special container that allows air to circulate around the roots, promoting healthy root growth. Here are the steps to air prune plants:

Choose an air pruning container: Air pruning containers are available in different sizes and materials, such as plastic, fabric, or biodegradable materials. Choose a container that is suitable for the size and type of plant you are growing.

Fill the container with a suitable growing medium: Use a high-quality soil mix or other growing medium that is suitable for the type of plant you are growing.

Plant your seedling or cutting: Place the plant in the container, ensuring that the roots are evenly spread out and not bunched up in one area.

Water your plants: Water the plant thoroughly, ensuring that the soil is moist but not waterlogged.

Place the container in a well-ventilated area: Air pruning containers require good air circulation to promote healthy root growth. Place the container in a well-ventilated area, such as a greenhouse, where it can receive adequate light and air.

Monitor your plants: Check your plant regularly to ensure that it is growing well and not suffering from any nutrient deficiencies or other issues. Water it as needed, and fertilize it according to the plant’s requirements.

Transplant your plants: When your plant is ready to be transplanted, carefully remove it from the air pruning container, taking care not to damage the roots. The plant should have a more extensive and fibrous root system, which will help it adjust to its new environment and grow stronger and healthier.

Air Pruning Container Choices

Plastic Air Pruning Seed Trays

Plastic air pruning seed trays are durable and reusable, making them an excellent choice for long-term use. They have specially designed cells that allow air to circulate around the roots, promoting healthy root growth. As the roots reach the edge of the container, they are pruned by the air, encouraging the growth of new roots and a more extensive, fibrous root system.

These cell trays are also available in various sizes and shapes, making them suitable for different types of plants. I am particularly fond of the air pruning cell trays from Bootstrap Farmer as they are heavy duty and last for many seasons.

Bootstrap Farmer 72 Cell Air Prune Tray, 5 Pack, Extra Strength Air Pruner Seed Starting Tray
  • Grow healthier seed start root system using the power of air pruning. Each cell…
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Last update on 2024-06-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Fabric Containers

Fabric air pruning containers are lightweight and breathable, allowing for excellent air circulation around the roots. They are made from materials such as fabric or felt and have a porous texture that promotes healthy root growth.

Fabric containers are ideal for larger plants and even small bushes and trees. They can also be biodegradable and eco-friendly, making them an ideal choice for gardeners looking to reduce their environmental impact.

Rain Science Grow Bag, Air Pruning Mesh Fabric Plant Container (15 Gallon, Black/ODGreen)
  • Life Time Warranty, Perfect for growing all types of plants, Great for…
  • Eliminates Overwatering, Made with plastic coated mesh. Rain Science grow bag…
  • Reinforced nylon handles

Last update on 2024-06-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Biodegradable Containers:

Biodegradable air pruning containers are made from materials such as coconut coir, peat moss, or paper. These containers are designed to break down over time, allowing the plant’s roots to grow into the surrounding soil.

They promote healthy root growth by allowing air to circulate around the roots, but they are one use items, and I find they don’t break down very quickly when added to the soil so I still remove the seedling from them when transplanting. These are my least favorite option.

SYITCUN 100 Cells Seed Starter Tray, 10 Pack Seed Starter Kit for Planting Seeds, Biodegradable Peat Pots, Value Germination Kit with 100 Plant Labels, 2 Transplanting Tools, 1 Spray Bottle
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Last update on 2024-06-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Air Root Pruning Containers:

Air root pruning containers are specifically designed to promote air pruning by using a series of ridges and troughs that guide the roots to grow in a specific pattern. These containers are commonly used in bonsai and tree propagation, but they can also be used for other plants.

SanSanYa 10 Set Air Root Pruning Pots 2.5 Gallon Air Pruning Planter Plant Pot Flower Air Root Pot
  • Easy Transplantation: Removable structure for convenient transplant, reduces…
  • Good for Plant Growth: Thick and short lateral roots promote strong, vigorous…
  • Reusable and Recyclable: Durable, flexible pots made from quality environmental…

Last update on 2024-06-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

No Container, Use Soil Blocks

Soil blocks are a popular method of starting seeds that can also provide air pruning benefits. Soil blocks are made by compressing a soil mix into a compact block, creating a self-contained planting unit that can be used to grow seedlings.

When soil blocks are made, the soil mix is compressed to create a solid structure. The roots of the seedlings grow within this structure and are pruned by the air as they reach the edges of the block. The result is a dense, fibrous root system that is better equipped to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

Using soil blocks is an effective way to air prune seedlings, promoting healthy root growth and preventing root-bound plants. Soil blocks are an eco-friendly option that eliminates the need for plastic containers, making them a great choice for environmentally conscious gardeners. With proper care and attention, seedlings grown in soil blocks can grow into strong, healthy plants ready for transplanting.

Soil Block Maker Upgraded 8PCS 2in Manual Seed Blocker with Comfort-Grip Handle Soil Blocking for Seed Start Garden Soil Potting Soil for Outdoor Plants Used Repeatedly (7.7in*4in)
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Last update on 2024-06-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

There are several options available for air pruning, including plastic containers, fabric containers, biodegradable containers, and root pruning containers. Each container has its unique features and benefits, and gardeners must choose the right one based on their needs and preferences.


Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a beginner, incorporating air pruning into your gardening routine can help you achieve your gardening goals and grow healthier, stronger plants. With the right container choice and proper care, air pruning is a technique that can revolutionize the way you grow plants and produce a bountiful harvest.


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    Author, blogger, podcaster, homesteading and permaculture enthusiast. I have a passion for sharing what I learn and helping others on their journey. If you're looking for me, you'll usually find me in the garden.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sam Bittman

    I am launching a new gardening series on Youtube called TheGrateful Gardener. Would it be possible to use your illustration of air pruning with credit of course?
    Many thanks, Sam Bittman

    1. User Avatar

      @Sam Bittman, sure can!

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