The following is a list of some of the benefits of planting bare root trees as opposed to container-grown or balled-and-burlapped stock.

  • The root system is visible and girdling roots (circling roots near the trunk) are not common (Figure 1).
    • Girdling roots, which are very common in containerized stock, can prevent adequate anchorage and lead to trunk breakage and/or low tree vigor (Figures 4-6).
  • The root system can be inspected and spread out during planting (Figure 2).
    • This can speed establishment and root anchorage.
  • There is no container medium, which simplifies irrigation management.
    • There is no need to consider the irrigation needs of container media (which dry out more quickly than native soils and therefore needs to be irrigated more frequently) separately from the native soil during establishment.
  • Bare root trees often have sturdier trunks and do not require staking for support (Figure 3).
    • However, they may require staking low on the trunk to anchor the roots until established.
  • You can generally buy larger trees for the money.
    • While bare root trees of up to 2 inches are commonly available, larger trees (up to 5” diameter) are being harvested and transplanted bare root using a new methods including 1) the Missouri Gravel Bed (MGB) method where trees are planted into a pea gravel and sand matrix, and 2) pneumatically excavated trees in which the roots are exposed and sprayed with a hydro gel (Urban, 2011).
  • Bare root trees are light and easier to transport.
  • Producing bare root trees uses less energy and costs less compared with containerized tree production.

There are some limitations associated with the use of bare root stock which include:

  • The number of species/varieties of trees available in nurseries is limited.
  • Typically, bare root trees are only available during the dormant season.
    • However, hydro gel dips have been used to slightly extend the planting season.
    • The MGB method described above allows trees to be moved in mid-summer.
  • Bare root trees need to planted right away or heeled in (roots covered with soil or other medium and kept moist).
bare root tree root system
Figure 1. Bare root tree root system. The roots are visible and can be inspected and cut as necessary. Girdling roots are uncommon.
roots spread in the planting hole
Figure 2. The roots of bare root trees can be spread in the planting hole which can be dug to the width and depth of the root system assuming the surrounding soil is loose.
bare root stock does not need to be staked
Figure 3. Bare root stock generally does not need to be staked for support. This is likely due to production practices such as not using nursery stakes and minimal pruning.
girding roots
Figure 4. Girdling roots in containerized trees are typically the result of 1) being in a container for too long, and 2) no root pruning when transplanted to larger containers.
girding roots
Figure 5. Girdling roots led to the toppling of this tree as the roots did not spread outward sufficiently to support the tree.
girdling roots
Figure 6. Girdling roots can lead to trunk breakage as with this tree. Top down view of remains of root system of tree which broke due to girdling roots.

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