Most of the trees you find at big box stores in pots started out growing in a field, with thousands of others. Once they reach a predetermined height they are then dug up, have their roots trimmed and are put into a pot and shipped off. The problem with this is that the roots from trees or shrubs that are in a pot for prolonged periods of time have nowhere to go other than in a circular pattern and it can be tough to correct this kind of growth once you plant it. As a result, it’s not uncommon for trees and shrubs planted from a pot to end up dying prematurely 10-20 years down the road from girdling. Planting bare root trees and shrubs can help you prevent this type of problem.
What are the advantages of planting bare root trees?
- MORE ROOTS: Unlike container trees or balled and burlapped (B&B) trees where the root system is hidden in the root/soil ball, you can actually see the entirety of the root system with bare root trees. This is advantageous in being able to tell if the roots look healthy, to see if they are gridled, and for visually inspecting how extensive that network of roots is. In general, bare root trees tend to have more root mass than container or B&B trees, in fact, up to 200% more.
- COST EFFECTIVE: Bare roots trees can cost as much as 50% less than their potted counterparts. The reason for the bargain pricing is a direct reflection of the labor it takes to bring them to the buyer. First, the labor required to dig up plants and pot them in containers is passed on to consumers. In addition, because there is no heavy soil/root ball, bare root trees aren’t as heavy as potted trees. Also, a lack of space these large pots create means bare root trees can be transported with more ease. The reduced weight and space mean freight and shipping costs are less than potted trees and offer tremendous savings to buyers.
In our case specifically we are looking to establish a wind row that doubles as cover for wildlife. In our area Eastern Red Cedars thrive and one potted tree that stands 2-3 feet tall costs $39.95. That same tree in a bare root form costs significantly less, about $10 if you purchase up to 3, $7 if you purchase up to twenty-four, $6 if you purchase up to 99 and just $4 if you plan on purchasing 100 or more. You can save even more if you buy bare root trees that are a little smaller. Wildlife managers will likely be planting trees in greater numbers so these bulk discounts can save you a bundle! Shop around and find the best deals you can.
You can purchase both deciduous and coniferous trees in bare root form, and if buying online it’s important to make sure you are purchasing/planting trees or shrubs that are native to your area, those that can thrive in the local conditions. Do some research or talk to a local extension agent to confirm whether or not a particular species will do well in your area if you have any doubts.
Not only are they more cost effective for buyers, but bare root plants are also quicker to establish themselves as they aren’t subjected to the transplant shock of a container grown plant. Unlike potted plants where you may not see a noticeable difference in the tree in the first growing season, bareroot trees can take off quickly once they are re-planted because their roots don’t have to transition from container soil to your local soil.
If there is a disadvantage to bare root trees it would probably be the short window you have to work with them, it’s all about timing. Because they don’t have soil, the roots can dry out and die if not cared for properly and planted in a timely fashion. The ideal planting time is midspring, usually between March and May, once the soil has thawed out, before the tree begins budding. Fall is also an acceptable time to get bare root trees in the ground after the leaves fall and they’ve gone dormant.
To ensure the highest survival rate possible choosing a good location for planting is essential. Think about your property from a water perspective – do you get a lot of moisture each year or are you located in a more drought prone area? If you live in an area that gets steady rainfall walk your property and see where water collects or areas that flood. Do your best to find a site that drains well and doesn’t flood. Planting on a slope and utilizing a small berm is highly effective in allowing water to run off or drain and avoiding over saturation of the soil so that there is still plenty of air circulation. Too much water saturation in the soil can suffocate the roots or become an ideal place for fungal diseases and root rot. Don’t plant directly into muddy soil, wait for it to drain and dry out a bit first. If you live in drought prone areas it will likely take more work for you to keep your trees alive than it would in other wetter parts of the country. In general, young trees need consistent watering of about one gallon per tree, every 7 days. However, in high heat and drought situations you have to adjust to avoid stressing the trees. In this case water double – one gallon of water per tree twice a week and then adjust, more or less, as necessary based on the conditions.
How to plant bare root trees:
Once you have selected a site for your orchard, tree row, wind row – whatever kind of planting you are going for, the next thing is to get your trees in the ground. By spending a little extra time with the planting process, you can help increase the chances of survival for your bare root trees.
- Fill up 5 gallon buckets half way with water and place your bare root trees in them to soak. You can let the roots soak for up to 24 hours.
- Dig a hole big enough to accommodate the root system, plus extra room to grow. By digging a good size hole, loosening up the soil and amending it, if necessary, the roots have an ideal environment to spread out and take hold quicker.
- Place the tree in the hole, spread out the roots and hold it straight up as you backfill with soil. Take care to keep the bump in the trunk, also known as the “graft union”, two inches above the ground.
- Continue to backfill until the hole is completely filled in and then press firmly on the soil around the tree to remove any air pockets.
- Water your new tree thoroughly.
- If you live in an area where wildlife could be an issue be sure to purchase tree tubes to protect the trunk or sprays that are available to discourage wildlife from eating the leaves. If you live in parts of the country that are windy then tree stakes may be essential to keep your trees growing straight.
Trees are a valuable addition to any property and if done right can serve many purposes and elevate the habitat. While they may be a long-term investment, they are worth it. Start small if you need to or take on a large crop of trees – either way, now is always a good time to sink a tree in the ground and get it growing.
Plant for the future,