When it comes to trees and shrubs, most people choose one of two choices:
- bare root or
I have gone both ways many times, and so offer you some things to consider when deciding which might be the best option for you.
Bare root specimens are often harder to come by, partly because they are harder for a nursery to care for. They can also be harder to sell, because they don’t have signs of growth and are generally smaller than anything similar in a pot. They do have several potential advantages, though:
1. They are usually less expensive to purchase. In fact, they are usually so much less expensive that you could suffer the loss of several plants or trees and still come out ahead in the budget.
2. Bare root stock is comparatively light and easy to handle.
3. Not as much digging is required to plant them. Most bare root plants need to be dormant and young, so there is no significant root mass to deal with.
4. The roots have not been guided by a pot. Because of this, with reasonable planting, the roots will respond freely to the soil, unhampered by any previous containment.
5. They tend to get more acclimated to the climate because they grow more while adjusting to it.
The possible disadvantages of bare root stock are:
1. There is usually not any sign of life when they are purchased or planted.
2. There is a tighter time frame for planting them. You can’t just let them sit around until it is the weekend. They can be what is called “heeled in” to keep them fresh, but there needs to be an area of loose and prepared garden soil for this.
3. Sometimes you need to prune the roots to more closely match the size of the upper growth.
4. They may be slow in showing signs of life even after planting. I have a beautiful row of red florabunda roses that I planted bare root. They are only alive now because it was not a priority to dig up what I thought were dead plants. After nearly 4 months, they all of a sudden burst forth in leaves that first summer, and have been a delight every June for 20 years since.
5. Because they don’t have leaves, it can be nearly impossible for the average gardener to tell if the tree or shrub is what they think they are getting.
6. They are smaller and may not reach maturity or fruiting capacity as soon as potted trees and shrubs. I say “may not,” because they often do grow very quickly, overtaking their previously potted brethren in robustness.
7. Similarly, it can be easier to “lose” them if other things grow up around them, blocking them from sunlight or tending.
Potted trees and shrubs can be kept in nurseries for years. This can be good if you are particularly looking for a large specimen, but living in a pot for that long is not natural in most cases. It is difficult to provide consistent enough water and nutrients to overcome the confinement of the pot. However, for younger potted plants there are some advantages:
1. It is possible to tell if the plant is living, if it is the right time of year to see growth.
2. It is older, and thus may already be better pruned to growing into an acceptable shape.
3. Larger trunks and branches could make it less susceptible to damage from weather and people.
The risks associated with a potted plant are often hidden:
1. The roots cannot be easily examined. Therefore, you can have little idea of how root bound it is or its general root health.
2. It may not have been planted correctly in the pot, a fact that it can survive for a while, but over the long term is very destructive. I just wrote an article about a pear tree that we planted about 15 years ago, but was always stunted. It was a root problem due to improper original planting in the pot.
3. Even though the root mass may be extensive, since it has been limited in dimension, it may not help anchor the plant well into the ground, especially if the top growth has been able to spread more a lot more proportionally.
4. Plants in pots are usually more expensive. Mistakes of any sort are harder on the bank account.
5. Potted plants of any significant size are difficult to carry around, and require greater attention to logistics to un-pot and get into the hole.
Starting trees and shrubs from seed is an option, but such seed is not readily available, unless you already have a mature plant in your yard going to seed! Even then, the original might be a hybrid or on different root stock.
If you are not aware of a source of bare root stock in your area, I would recommend Vernon Barnes and Son Nursery. I have ordered from them off and on for over 25 years. Many trees and shrubs from them have prospered. Some have died, but it has been hard to tell if it was due to wrong conditions or improper care, as I am frequently attempting to plant more than I can attend to. Even with the failures, their prices are so low that it is worth trying again and again. They do not have a website, but this is their contact information. They have a history of being very quick to respond.
Vernon Barnes and Son Nursery
P.O. Box 25052
McMinniville, TN 37110