Potted versus Bare Root

alan haighFebruary 23, 2013

I noticed an old thread comparing two nurseries had been brought back up but a discussion about potted versus bare root fruit trees had spun away from the original subject. Thought this might be a good topic title for ordering time. Here's my quick assessment.

Obviously, bare roots need to be planted when dormant- that is their main disadvantage over potted material. Generally they establish better than potted trees unless the potted trees are planted when dormant and you can pull curling roots straight and spread into native soil.

If a potted tree has spent little time in any given pot and moved to larger containers before roots circle around in the pot it can be planted any time and will probably do great, but this is not the real world in the nursery business. Voles do like to make a home out of potting mix as it is easy digging and tends to stay drier than surrounding soil.

Shipping bare root material is ecologically superior because of the reduced weight and energy consumption and carbon emissions of transport, and value is generally much better with bare root trees.

The discussion gets more complicated when you talk about baring age fruit trees but most in this forum order whips or feathered one year trees anyway.

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I think it would be relative to your situation.

I dont think bare root trees would work for me personally, because ive never seen them available (online) when I can plant them. Im assuming this is because they arent dormant by the time I can get them in the ground.

I would also assume that potted trees would mean less root disturbance, unless like you mentioned they are severely pot bound. I guess it would depend on the tree/type of root system (ie shape, taproot or type of rootstock)

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 8:47AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

I much prefer bare root.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 8:48AM
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Typically I get bare root fruit/nut trees. That's what a local (4 hrs. away) nursery sells and ships. Order and plant only from Jan - Mar down here.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 9:07AM
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alan haigh

CP, lots of nurseries keep their BR stock in cold storage until shipping, but when I order from west coast nurseries here, stock is budding out when it arrives but trees grow just great anyway- actually better than deeply dormant trees that may take 3 weeks to begin growth.

Nurseries in your zone should have stock completely dormant to ship when you need to plant.

Actually, small trees in pots are often just bare root trees where much of the rootsystem is removed to fit in a 5 gallon pot and sold when first leafing out. I believe BR's are far superior if this is the method.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 9:27AM
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I prefer bareroot trees. Mine usually arrive in a very dormant stage and most take a month to 'wake up' and start leafing out. I did buy one peach that was potted and the roots were wound in circles around the inside of the pot. I pruned the roots to straighten out the mess and planted the tree in the ground. It took and it has been fine, but when 'bareroot' trees arrive (from good sources), the tree has just enough 'root power' to get going as their root systems are very uncomplicated. It is remembering to prune the top of the tree to match your root pruning that seems important. Most potted trees in my local nurseries are leafed out with fruit! Do you leave those trees in their pots until after fruiting, then plant them? Mrs. G

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 12:19PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

These pots are fertilized like crazy and can support some fruit. I would take them off then plant right away,..you be farther ahead come fall.

Agree with HM,..I love bare root trees.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 1:25PM
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I prefer a potted bare root. This combines the best of both methods and is what I sell during the dormant months. I take a bench graft from bareroot rootstock I made put it in to a 3-5 gallon pot to grow for the season and then when it goes dormant take to the dec-feb farmers market to sell. This way you have many of the fine feeder roots and get a better tree much quicker and cutting the tree back is really not needed. I rarely have any roots circle the pot doing this way except sometimes on the larger seedling pear rootstock. But if you can't find this bareroot is usually better than potted as most potted trees are just bareroots stuck in soil.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 2:01PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Bare root is clearly better than potted if planted dormant in winter or spring depending on your area.

The nurseries pot up their trees so they don't lose them if not sold by spring. This does allow planting after bare root season. But for the experienced grower that is only a special situation option.

Planting potted trees during bare root season doesn't make sense. Trees in pots do only one thing, develop an inferior root system. The longer in a pot the worse the root system gets.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 2:01PM
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Thanks HM

Im in a unique situation where there arent many local nurseries to fill the void here. I do know they do breed trees, but as far as I know they are potted (to be honest ive never CHECKED). The trees ive gotten one was burlaped (so "bareroot"), one was potted (toka plum) and one was potted but looked as you described (roots cut up to fit the pot).

There is only one place that I know of that would have plants available when i need them, and that is TT seeds in manitoba. Nothing wrong with them or against them at all, i just havnt ordered from them yet. I would assume their trees are bareroot, as they are sent as 3 foot plants.

I do have to take a good look at the nurseries that are around here, but the local ones usually have a lack of good stock for my tastes.

So i guess i lied when i said i cant get bareroot lol. I just have never seen the one/2 year old whips/feather trees available here. The other places (besides tt) are in places too warm (toronto is 3 zones warmer than me).

Again i think it depends on your sitiation. IF you can get dormant bareroot trees before things really get growing, and the ground is unfrozen than bareroot is your way. If youre in a sitiation like me, you basically have to get what is available.

I will say out of the 3 big trees I planted, the Toka plum (potted) established the fastest, grew lusher in its first year, and was overall less shocked than the Pear (burlaped) and apple (ill say summer planted bareroot in soil).

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:19AM
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alan haigh

A warmer zone is not necessarily a problem. Because fruit trees are usually on clonal rootstock and, if not, on a seedling of a clone trees will be just as well acclimated to your conditions as a local nursery.

Most larger nurseries have refrigeration, so your trees should arrive in fine shape for planting in your zone if the nursery is willing to hold off shipping as I'm sure some in Canada will. Here only most southern nurseries tend to refuse late shipping.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:36AM
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A unique situation that nobody has mentioned so far has to do with the big box stores. Probably none of you source your fruit trees from these places, but sometimes you can find a good deal on exactly what you want...

My local Lowes and Home Depot stores typically get a shipment or two of bareroot fruit trees in late winter. Some sell out, but most dry up and die in the store, which of course is too warm to keep them dormant anyway.

If you grab one the day they arrive in the store there is a chance of survival, but after that, it's a crapshoot. Since these bareroot trees are not much, if any, cheaper than the similar size potted trees that come in a bit later, I choose the potted ones hands down. Yes, you can always return a tree that dies, but don't expect to find the same thing outside of the season you first bought it...

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 4:31PM
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alan haigh

Home Depot is notorious for selling mislabeled material. Fruit trees are too much work to risk being stuck with a variety you don't want after years of nurture.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:00PM
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I have done both in my commercial cherry orchard. I order extra bareroot trees and pot the extra ones I don't need the following fall, The potted ones I planted the following fall grew much better than most of the bare root trees planted at that winter.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 10:55PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Yeah...potting them up first right away, [warmer] will grow faster,..but not needed, unless you want to get ahead a month or more.
I've done this many times, like raspberries, cherries, pears etc. then transplant later in the year. Perhaps our long very cold winters with the ground cold for a long time makes it even more worth the effort.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 1:43AM
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I have used both potted and bare-root in my orchard.
Both methods have good and bad aspects.


Cost more than bare-root
Less selection at garden center
more work to transport to site

can plant all season
better growth first year


available short time (dormant)
small sizes only to fit shipping box

bigger selection than potted
easier to plant (smaller hole)
easy to carry to planting site
cheaper than potted

Of course large bare-root is available but not by UPS or
Fed-Ex as box cannot be longer than 6'. If you can drive
to bare-root nursery or have them delivered to your site
then up to 1" caliper bare-root is available. For the home situation this is usually not an option. Buying mail order or at the garden center is the place to go.

Just avoid the chain stores that label them "fruiting pear"
or "fruiting peach" with no indication of variety. Nor any
knowledge of what the rootstock is. They may be cheap
and look nice but I would not waste my time buying them.

I prefer bare-root due to budget and ease of planting. But then I like to watch them grow. I am patient.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 1:13PM
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alan haigh

A tree that is tended well should generally grow faster in the ground than in a pot- I do both in my nursery and have decades of comparison. Of course, it would depend on the soil as well, wouldn't it?

What will grow faster in a pot, apparently, are blueberries, which can be sized up in a 5 gallon pot before putting in the ground and if you are on top of water and have them in the right mix you will probably get much faster establishment than when planting a small plant straight into the ground. I learned this on this site from a small commercial blueberry grower who got five feet of growth first year in pots from plugs.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 4:16PM
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