Fruit trees: bareroot vs container trees

bethiegirlazOctober 17, 2013

I'm in the process of selecting fruit trees to be planted in my yard and am wondering if you who have planted have had better success with bareroot or container trees. When I call the nurseries they of course tell me to buy the type the sell but I want to know from experience.

For container trees, I'd purchase from RSI Growers as the owner Reid has rootstock that does well in our soils and the plants are acclimated to our temps. I've read nothing but good things about his plants. Bareroot, I'd buy from a reputable online nursery or local nursery (not a big box!).

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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 3:15PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

My experience is it doesn't matter. Potted plants usually adjust quicker as the roots are actively growing. But bareroot trees will adjust just fine. Once in a while one won't make it. Mine grew 2 feet or more in the first year. Potted trees did just as well. I don't consider bareroot or potted in my decision. Cultivar, price, size. etc are what I look at. To me it doesn't matter. Another advantage I guess for potted is being able to plant anytime, if your zone allows you to. Mine does not, so that is not a factor for me.
If you do go for potted trees, to stop the roots from spiraling you must score the roots. I put an "X" on the bottom, and slit sides NSEW(est). Not all the way through, a couple inches.That way roots will not keep circling, and grow correctly. Some break the root ball completely up. One experiment showed similar results, as long as something was done. Those left alone suffered from girdled roots. So either method you have to disturb roots.
Advantages of bareroot:
Usually cheaper, less to send.
Trees are usually smaller/younger, and can be pruned better for a smaller tree. You have more say in scaffold structure. Many times potted plants are bareroot plants that didn't sell.
Plants being root bound can dwarf growth. The pots are always way too small. Some plants like to be root bound, not trees except maybe figs.
Potted trees adjust better as mentioned. Probably a higher survival rate, but not by much.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Thu, Oct 17, 13 at 15:26

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 3:17PM
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alan haigh

I believe bare root is better. It places the roots directly in the soil instead of being in an artificial medium that dries out much quicker than soil.

Also, if a tree sits long in a pot, even just a growing season, the circling roots may be extremely slow to anchor the tree, even as it grows. You can avoid this problem by treating it a bit like a bare root and pull the circling roots straight and stretching them into the new soil but inexperienced gardeners may have difficulty doing this and it should be done during dormancy.

Bare root plants should be relatively cheaper and nurseries that supply them are likely to have a much better selection, which is the biggest issue of all.

When you buy a tree in a 7 gallon pot, it usually started the season as a bare root and most of the roots are cut off to fit into the pot unless the roots have just been stuffed into it which brings us back to the circling roots problem.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 3:58PM
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Bareroot, but only if the tree is propagated on a rootstock that does well for your soil conditions.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 8:14PM
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I would think that would depend on your area. Up here in zone 4 we really dont have many bareroot plants in the nurseries. On top of that there would be a very narrow window to plant between the time when the ground thaws enough to dig and bud break (depends on the year, im going on "average")

I have seen quite a few burlaped plants, which I consider same general difference as bareroot - Not much root mass in comparison to the tree size. At least with the bareroot plants I have seen, they are usually smaller. THe BB trees I have planted were 2 or 3 years old and had way more growth above ground then root mass. They took an entire season to adjust with very little growth if any at all.

I only have planted one potted fruit tree - My toka plum. You definitely get a head start in regards to root mass, but usually the plants have been in the pots for a season, so they can be root bound. This can set back a tree just as bad as lack of roots, but it did seem to settle a lot faster then the BB trees.

The only plants I can say ive planted bareroot are roses, and they all die on me. I have yet to have bareroot roses survive the winters here, hardy or not. Maybe because I cant plant them while dormant?

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 6:00AM
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ahgrower Horne

Hi Everyone,
I totally agree with Drew 51. I have 25 assorted fruit trees and I have purchased some bareroot and some containerized. I have gotten desired results with both. With the bareroot, you have more access to the roots of the plant in terms of how they should lay-on the otherhand, containerized trees are pretty much structured to the size of the container that they have been placed in. However; once I remove the plant from the container, I gently tap the sides, bottom and top so that the roots can breathe a little and hang out. (Its like going out for a drive after being stuck in the house all day-LOL) Anyway, once I get the roots free from the container and loosen them up in just those areas I mentioned-I replant and all goes well. It can get a little challenging when you have to lay the tree on its side to carefully loosen up the roots but I do this with every containerized tree and I have never lost a plant so far, bareroot or containerized. However, bareroot, I feel like I have more control because I am starting almost from scratch. I can handle the roots a lot more generously because there is nothing but just the roots to deal with. I can mix in whatever growing mediums I need for that specific tree right from the start and stretch out the roots the way they should be-to avoid the curl. And as Drew51 pointed out, its all about the cultivar, size and price that are of the utmost priority; I feel the exact same way as well. Yet, in my experience though, I seem to acquire fruit faster from the containerized trees than the bareroots.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 7:47AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a


Sounds like the adaption time is too long for roses. Put them in pots the first year. But roses hate to be moved. That probably won't work either. I removed my mom's roses 25 years after her death, it took me that long to do it. They were alive, but not that well cared for.
I listen to a garden show from WPR out of Wisconsin, which is mostly zone 4. They have talked about roses a lot.
You can look through the archives in link provided. Larry also does other shows, so it is difficult to look through descriptions. Press CTRL F in your browser and search for the word "rose".
I don't know if it will help or not? But if you're bored one day...

Here is a link that might be useful: The Larry Meiller Show

This post was edited by Drew51 on Fri, Oct 18, 13 at 8:02

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 8:00AM
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Thats the same thing I was thinking Drew. Theyre a pain in the ass unto themselves (roses). Sometimes I think plants are smarter then us metaphorically, because of how much work we do for them lol.

I also think roses would be different then bareroot trees in regards to how long it takes them to grow a decent root system. Generally speaking most sources seem to say to prune the new fruit trees so more energy is put towards root growth.

Whether thats true or not, at least in my experience the less amount of roots when planting seems to mean a much longer time before the plant has a large enough root system to falicitate growth above ground.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 5:42PM
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For my region, I love bare root as the variety is much greater and I would plant either type during its dormancy. It seems that most local nurseries focus most on customer's requests as opposed to what does best in the region.

Speaking of which, I would encourage you to contact a local university that can provide recommendations as to what grows best in your area. Also it is still apple season and you might be able to sample some new varieties. Good luck and have fun.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 7:27PM
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