Bareroot, Balled & Burlapped and Container Grown Plants

Winter is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. It is highly recommended that you put any tree or shrub out well before hot weather to give plants a time to grow some roots (yes, trees do grow roots in winter) before they have to face hot temperatures. Most fruit and nut tree nurseries in Texas are opening up for the season now and will be open through March. What a great present for Christmas even if I might be hard to put under the “tree.”

Container plants have the advantage of having all of their roots intact and ready to grow if the pot was properly cared for. Container grown plants are great but be careful! Nurseries grow plants in pots so that they can be sold easily but trees continue to grow even in a pot. This growing means that pots can become too small for the tree as it grows and so the plant becomes root-bound (stunted). To check and see if a plant is root-bound just hold the pot and lift the tree out of the pot. If the roots are just to the pot sides and no roots are circling, then the tree should be okay. When planting a container grown plant dig a hole bigger than the plant by double the width but no deeper. Remove the tree from the pot and plant into the hole as quickly as possible. Air kills the little white hair roots very fast if not put into the ground. Don’t be afraid to tamp down the soil into the hole to get good soil to root contact. Once the hole is backfilled with soil then water thoroughly to remove the air spaces.

B&B or Balled and Burlapped plants are not container grown and you need to understand that before ordering them. These plants may have been grown in a nursery or maybe even in the wild, but they were dug out of the ground so that many of the roots have been cut off. In B&B trees the soil ball is still intact and they can be very heavy. In fact, there should be about 10-12 inches of ball for every inch of tree trunk diameter. When you get a B&B plant remove all plastic including any string or twine. You can leave the burlap only if it is not plastic. If there is a wire basket you can leave it as the roots will grow right through. The biggest problem with B&B trees is that the hole is usually dug with the same tree spade that dug the tree. Tree spades leave the hole sides very slick and hard for roots to penetrate. The best hole is wider but not deeper than the ball.

Bareroot trees are just trees that have been dug very carefully in the nursery so that the roots are pretty much intact but there is no soil. As you can imagine these trees are much more fragile but without the soil they are easier to handle both for the nurseryman and you. Most bareroot trees are dug and then “healed in” at the nursery till you purchase them. To plant them be very sure you keep the roots moist at all times while you’re planting. Dig the hole as deep as the roots go and just as wide. Put the tree in the hole and backfill slowly adding dirt while you pack it. Once the hole is full you need to water well to take out air pockets. 

Bareroot trees are traditionally much cheaper than their container or balled and burlapped counterparts but bareroot trees need to be planted now in the winter before leaf growth.  Most fruit and nut trees are sold this way and almost all commercial orchards are developed using bareroot trees.  Usually, bareroot tree nurseries sell during the months of December, January, February and some into March.  Again, it is important to get these trees in the ground before they break winter dormancy so that some roots develop before leaves do.

Author: Bob Whitney, Regents Fellow & Extension Organic Specialist

Agriculturalist, extension educator and researcher, organic agriculture enthusiast and promoter, international program developer, Christian, husband, father and friend.

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