Q: The roots of garden center perennials are often badly matted. Should I tear these apart at planting time? — Anne Marie Selby, Macon, Ga.
A: Pot-bound perennials and shrubs are a common problem now that container-grown plants have all but replaced field-grown ones. And yes, tough love is in order. Their roots need to be unwound and cut, then spread to help them venture into surrounding soil more quickly. I pull apart as many as I can with my fingers. When this is too difficult, I take a knife or a machete and make several gashes an inch or so deep all around the root ball. I then dip it in a root-stimulating solution such as a weak manure tea or a fish emulsion. Even with this care, root-bound plants need extra attention, especially watering, during the first season.