Tree Care: Pros and Cons of Bare Root, Balled and Burlapped and Container Grown - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Tree Care: Pros and Cons of Bare Root, Balled and Burlapped and Container Grown

Nursery stock is grown in several different ways, and you might think that as long as you can get the trees you need for the job, it doesn’t matter how they arrive.

However, no production method is the best for all situations. You should consider the availability, price and adaptability to local site conditions. Check out the pros and cons of the common production methods for trees to determine which is the best for various jobs.

Balled and Burlapped

Balled and burlapped (B&B) trees are the traditional option for transplanting trees. They have the largest variety when it comes to tree species and larger trunk sizes are available as well. B&B trees often need less watering than potted trees since they come with a ball of soil.  

They are slower growers because their root system was severed in the process. B&B trees also suffer from transplant shock since they lose over 95 percent of their roots when dug up. The re-establishment period could take one to two years for the root system.

Because B&B trees come with the soil that’s around the roots, they are heavier than the other options and often require equipment and skilled personnel. B&B trees also have the risk of being planted too deep since most of the roots are removed during the transplanting process.

Bare Root

Bare root trees are what it sounds like. The tree roots are not in any soil or container, but the roots are typically covered by a moisture-retaining material. They are often dug in the late fall, placed in cold storage and then sold in early spring. Because bare root trees don’t have any soil, they are significantly lighter and easier to handle.  

Bare root trees are less common in the retail industry since the trees are typically very small. Bare root trees are less expensive than container or B&B trees. They are a good option when you need to purchase a large number of trees to serve as windbreaks or hedges. Bare root trees frequently grow faster since they have the majority of their roots still and they aren’t transitioning from container soil to local soil.

Some of the drawbacks to bare root trees are that the sizes are not very large and many species of trees cannot be moved bare root. They are most restrictive when it comes to planting times. They need to be planted in the early spring before they start to leaf.

Container Grown

Trees grown in containers are the newest production method and were developed as a convenience for consumers. They are the middle grounds in terms of size as they can be larger than bare root trees but are smaller than B&B trees. They’re also lighter than B&B trees but not as light as bare root trees.

Container-grown trees don’t deal with transplant shock, like B&B trees because 100 percent of their root system is moved with them. This extends the season for planting these types of trees and allows them to start growing sooner.

They often need frequent watering because they are grown in potting soil. Container trees can also become root-bound and have a harder time establishing deep roots because of this. Root-bound trees have reduced vigor and dwarfed size. Another drawback is how container-grown trees are often more expensive than B&B trees because of increased production costs.

No matter what production method you go with, the proper planting of the tree will ultimately decide the tree’s successful transplant.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.