Linda Chalker Scott (The Informed Gardener, and "The Great Courses" teacher for The Science of Gardening) suggests clearing off as much of the material from the roots of a tree before planting.

I've been doing this; but my trees universally have a 2-4 week rough period after planting (and one hasn't survived.) On the plus side, I'm not bringing in most of the potting crap into my soil, and if I understand correctly, these trees will end up growing stronger.

Any thoughts -- is the transplant shock to be expected?

  • Traditionally, "bare root" meant completely bare roots, and transplanting a deciduous tree only when it was dormant and had no leaves (i.e in winter) so none of the problems with containerization and transplanting at any time of the year were relevant.
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 9:23
  • Thanks. i've seen it both ways and it's caused me some confusion... Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 19:23

1 Answer 1


Removal of some or most soil from about the roots may be quite helpful for small trees in containers, and perhaps for small transplant trees with roots wrapped in burlap etc, but for larger trees becomes more problematical the larger the tree: eg, tree transplanting equipment, which lifts the tree & roots & soil: when planting, something is required for support, and newly placed noncompressed soil is great for small and new root growth, but structurally less supportive of weight. The larger the tree the more problematical structural support and possible affect on root surfaces becomes. And different types of trees have different types of root systems.

Generally, except for small specialised type trees grown in containers, leaving soil that is sort of attached tends to keep small roots intact; and small container tree roots are very very carefully separated and the tree very very carefully set into a new container(or maybe the same container), the container soil intended to be replaced to provide fresh nutrient. Seedling roots are fragile, but so are the small & tiny roots of large trees.

Similarly, when transplanting/ planting, it's typically recomended to gently fluff out the roots & unwind etc circled roots. In that process loose soil tends to fall away, but pulling at the soil, especially if it isn't moist, also pulls at the roots & can be too much for little roots.

One mild guide is to consider the relative size eg of a burlap wrapped root ball to the size & age of the tree: some are quite little compared to the size eg of a 1.2 m citrus, and that situatuation would tend be different from a 1.2 m citrus with a burlap wrapped ball six times the volume re the extent of root crowding present & how much soil might be loose. Gently disentangling/ separating circled roots etc is typically associated with some soil falling away. Also, some trees are more sensitive to replanting than others, and age matters too. Time for establishment of root systems is to be expected, and could be longer than 4 weeks.

  • 1
    In this case, I'm talking about a 15gal install of a 1.5m tree... Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 19:22

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