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I've always thought that the right way to transfer a plant/tree to the ground is to dig a hole twice as big as the root-ball, free the roots that've been growing in a limited space and set it level with the ground. This way, the roots are free to branch out and establish themselves in the surrounding soil.

However, I saw landscape workers at some place nearby just directly transferring a tree with its root-ball still looking like the shape of the container†. Wouldn't this slow down the growth of the roots and make the tree more susceptible to uprooting in strong winds? Are there tangible advantages to disentangling the roots or have I been doing it wrong (or unnecessarily) all this while?

† It is entirely possible that the workers were lazy and didn't do it knowing fully well that they were going to get paid anyway. The question still remains though.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Sadly, I think your point marked "†" is almost certainly 100% spot on.

I believe your "I've always thought..." statement is 100% correct and if you've been doing that, you've been doing the right thing all along (IMHO).

Teasing root-bound plants out of a pot, container, burlap, etc greatly helps the plant get off to the best possible start it can (assuming you've done all the other planting things right):

  • It encourages the roots to work themselves out into their new environment.

  • It greatly prevents the chance of the roots circling themselves, if that does occur it can very easily lead to the roots girdling themselves:

    • Best case scenario, the plant will grow slowly and poorly.

    • Worst case scenario, the plant dies.

Some reading on the subject that reinforces your "I've always thought..." statement:

I'm sure there is somewhere, but I've never seen or heard of why you shouldn't tease the roots out when planting (assuming the plant is root-bound).

Rightly or wrongly, regardless if the plant is root-bound or not, out of habit, being told what to do, watching what others do, etc I always tease the roots out a little bit when planting.

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Yes, I do the same; if the tree is container-grown, even if it isn't root-bound, I always tease out the fibrous roots at the edge of the root ball, without disturbing its overall structure. If it has been grown in a peat-based medium, I also mix the back-fill soil with a little peat, to ease the transition and encourage its roots to spread into the surrounding soil. – Mancuniensis Aug 13 '11 at 12:34

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