I need to understand the pros and cons of bare rooted vs potted.

For example: If I get dormant bare rooted trees vs dormant potted, would I get "lag" in tree growth when I pot it and wakes up?

Do I need to apply root treatment to bare rooted tree?

Does the tree suffer any setbacks after bare root?

Should the tree be protected more than usual in the spring?

  • 2
    The main point of bare root trees is that you just cut a slot in the ground with a spade, stick the tree into it, use your boots to close up the slot, and let nature take its course. Job done in 5 minutes or less. More hardy outdoor plants die because people fuss over them than because people neglect them!
    – alephzero
    Oct 5 '21 at 16:11

I planted many bare root fruit trees ( zone 5). I did not do anything special and do not remember anything other than they leafed out and grew normally in the spring. I planted them in fall, winter, and early spring while dormant. My understanding is that in late winter and early spring , although dormant , they grow root hairs that were lost in the bare root stage,

  • 1
    You are right, the roots will start to regrow before the leaves. Plants have a "clever" system for keeping their root and leaf growth in balance: leaves produce hormones that inhibit root growth, and roots produce hormones that inhibit leaf growth. So "no leaves + warmer soil temperatures" tells the plant "start growing new roots first."
    – alephzero
    Oct 5 '21 at 16:17
  • The roots of container-grown trees will be planted at the wrong depth for optimal growth because they're growing, down from the side of the pot, not out near the top of the soil like they should be. Read this for more information: s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/403/2015/03/instant-landscaping.pdf. It advises gardeners to create bareroot plants from containerized plants!
    – Jurp
    Oct 6 '21 at 13:54

For container-grown trees, you have the benefit of having a nice plant to drop in the ground whenever you want. Nowadays, most professional growers cater to this market. Bare-root trees can only be planted in early Spring, and the idea is often intimidating to novice gardeners.

Because of the disruption caused by bare-rooting a tree, you may initially see slower growth versus its container counterpart; however, I've also seen the opposite. I had a bare root bald cypress put on two feet of growth this year.

However, in my experience, container-grown trees pretty reliably have many problems: poor media, circling roots, girdling roots, the tree is planted too deep, etc. Nurseries want to produce pretty specimens that get bought up at retail nurseries. They do this on a large scale, so many of the little details that ensure the overall long-term health of the tree are sacrificed for the sake of money and time.

Additionally, container grown trees requires "foreign" soil to acclimate with native soil. This can slow down establishment.

All things equal, I'd choose a bare root tree over a container tree; however, many species are simply not available bare root, so container-grown may be your only option. There are root treatments you can apply but these are generally not required. Because the root system is small, you'll have to ensure adequate water for at least the first year of growth (also true of container trees).

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