Providing Horticultural Knowledge and Products for over 30 years!

Buying Nursery Stock


Bare-root stock, if handled properly, is one of the best bargains. Survival rates of 95% to 99% are typical. It is an economical means of acquiring nursery stock because: the plants are grown in the ground like a field crop, they are removed from the ground with efficient machinery or cheap labor, they are stored in refrigerated and humidified warehouses, the freight costs from the grower to your nursery are small because of the absence of heavy soil and they are held in beds of moist sand or potting media awaiting your purchase. If their roots are not allowed to become dry and die anytime between being dug up and being placed in your landscape or orchard, all will be well.  However, most failures with bare-root stock occur after the ultimate consumer (you) has acquired it. Dig the square hole before you go to the nursery. As insurance, take an old wet blanket (no, not him) wrapped in a tarp to place around the precious bundles at the nursery. Drive straight home, don't leave the plants in the back of the truck or in the trunk any longer than is necessary. Place the wrapped bundles outdoors, in the shade and protected from wind. Remove each plant, one at a time, from its moist cocoon. Place it so the top of the soil stain on the stem is at soil line. Make sure the square hole is deep enough, if not, place the plant in a bucket of water and keep digging.  Cut off all damaged roots. Use the recommended number of 21-gram, 2-year fertilizer tablets. Fill the hole carefully with unamended soil identical to that in which it will grow (without the bigger rocks). Take care to spread out each root horizontally as the backfilling reaches its level. Water it in with root stimulator solution or dilute water-soluble fertilizer. Till the ground 6 inches deep in a 3 foot radius around the newly planted tree and cover the tilled circle with 4 inches of a shredded hardwood mulch. Certain fruit trees must be topped at planting time, most other bare-root plants are not pruned at all. Do not over-water the plants, strive to keep the soil just moist.


A balled-and-burlapped plant, like a bare-root plant, is economically grown in the ground. It is dug manually or mechanically with an intact ball of the soil in which it has grown. To keep the natural soil ball entire, it is wrapped with real burlap or a woven plastic sheeting held in place, with quickly-rusting nails and it is further secured with sisal or polypropylene twine or a wire basket. The root balls must never dry out and they must never be fractured. A broken ball means severed roots and a diminished chance of survival. A balled-and-burlapped plant must NEVER be handled by the stem.  Handle only the bound ball of soil. The root balls of balled-and-burlapped stock are normally buried in moist mulch or sand while being displayed for sale. Balled-and-burlapped stock is more expensive than bare- root because of the increased labor costs of digging and wrapping and also the much higher freight costs.

When planting a balled-and-burlapped plant, dig the hole 90% the height of the root ball; for example, a 9 inch deep hole for a 10 inch high root ball.  The lateral dimensions of the square hole should be 3 to 4 times the width of the root ball. Lifting the plant by the root ball, place it in the hole. Use the recommended number of 21-gram, 2-year fertilizer tablets. If it is wrapped in real, biodegradable burlap, backfill halfway up the root ball with unamended soil identical to that in which it will grow.  Cut all the twine from the upper hemisphere of the root ball and peel back the natural burlap. Finish backfilling the hole with more unamended soil. Water it in with a root stimulator solution or dilute water-soluble fertilizer. Till the ground 6 inches deep in a 3 foot radius beyond the edge of the square hole. Cover the tilled area with 4 inches of a shredded hardwood mulch. Should the ball come wrapped in a woven plastic fabric, place the root ball in the hole. Remove all the twine and woven plastic sheeting from the sides and top of the root ball by cutting it away.  Leave a disc of woven plastic sheeting at the bottom of the root ball. Backfill as described above. Do not prune balled-and-burlapped stock planted during the dormant season. Do not over-water. Water newly-planted balled-and-burlapped plants when the soil of the original root ball is dry 1 inch down.


Ain't technology sumthin? Imagine growing plants in the ground with their roots contained in a special bag. Grow-bags consist of a solid plastic bottom sewn and/or fused to cylindrical walls of a root-constricting, man-made, felt-like fabric. Plants growing in grow-bags can be removed from the ground even during the growing season. The cylindrical bags are dug up by hand or machine. Unearthed grow-bags can be stored in moist sand or mulch, but are usually planted immediately. They are planted within a few days either in pots or where they are to grow for the rest of their life. In either case, the fabric sides and the plastic disc at the bottom are removed completely. When planting a tree or shrub in a grow-bag, dig the square hole 90% to 95% the height of the root ball. The width of the square hole should be 3 to 4 times the diameter of the root ball. Use the recommended number of 21-gram, 2-year fertilizer tablets. Backfill the square hole with the unamended soil from the site. Till the ground 6 inches deep for 3 feet beyond the edges of square hole and cover the tilled area with 4 inches of a shredded hardwood mulch.


These monstrosities are normally seen in the temporarily fenced-in, parking lot nursery sales yards of "value merchandisers" who sell plants only during the peak spring season. They consist of bare root plants whose roots are mangled, twisted and enclosed in peat-moss-filled plastic sausages or cardboard boxes. Their shelf life is very short. Their life expectancy, once in the landscape, is usually measured in days.  May they rest in peace.


A containerized plant was originally grown in the ground and harvested either bare-root, balled-and-burlapped or in a grow-bag. They are potted and held by a nursery until their roots form a cohesive root ball. These plants incorporate the economies associated with growing in the ground with the convenience to the consumer of being acquired in pots. The major problem with containerized plants is in the case of those which come from bare-root stock. Those who pot them up seldom take the time to position the roots correctly as the pot is filled with soil. This leads either to all the roots being pressed together in the center of the pot and/or to very long roots being left coiled around the sides of the pot to form girdling roots in the future. Such stock should be root pruned before being planted. A containerized tree or shrub is planted in a square hole exactly as deep as the root ball and at least 3 to 4 times its width. Use the recommended number of 21-gram, 2-year fertilizer tablets. Backfill the hole with unamended soil identical to that which exists on the site (discard the bigger rocks). Till the ground 6 inches deep in a 3 foot span beyond the edges of the hole and cover the tilled ground with 4 inches of a shredded hardwood mulch.


These are grown, obviously, in containers from the time the seed is sown or the cutting rooted. The plants are stepped up from 2 1/4 inch "rose" pots to 1 gallon black plastic pots to 2, 3 or 5 gallon black plastic pots and a few further stepped up into 7, 10 or 15 gallon pots. Some large shrubs or trees are again stepped up into 20 gallon or larger containers. Plants grown in containers usually take longer to reach a certain size than field-grown plants. This longer time to reach a marketable size plus the costs of stepping up to ever larger containers plus the cost of potting media (not soil) plus the costs of frequent irrigation and constant fertilization plus the costs of providing winter protection (even for otherwise hardy plants) make container-grown plants more expensive than field-grown plants. Container-grown plants are planted exactly like containerized plants.


Boxed specimens are started from container-grown plants or are containerized in wooden boxes. Boxed nursery stock is also stepped up to ever larger boxes. Such plants are usually sold in 24", 30", 36" or 48" boxes. Boxed trees in 96" and larger sizes are also available, they do, however, sell for thousands of dollars. Much of the stock produced in boxes is trees disparagingly referred to as "Lollipop Trees". They are the specimens with a single, straight trunk and a symmetrical ball of foliage which some Landscape Architects specify routinely. They are the trees one sees arrayed in a boring and unnatural geometric grid at the entrance to a subdivision or office park or by an office building. Aside from their very high cost, boxed specimens very often carry a fatal flaw. If the plants are not stepped up often enough and if corrective root pruning is not performed at such times, the roots will stay in the shape of the box and never leave those dimensions, even after being in the ground several years. Such trees never become well-established and they are, regrettably, quite short-lived. Do not plant a boxed specimen before first inspecting its root system. Remove the walls of the box and wash away the outer layer of soil from one side of the root ball and reject any boxed plant which has only 3/8 inch or larger roots exposed. The absence of fine roots indicates possible problems in the future. Boxed plants are planted exactly like plants in grow-bags. Watch their water needs closely for the first year. Over-watering will kill them quickly in our heavy, clay soils.


Advertising to the contrary, there are not different grades of sod, as far as I am concerned. Sod consists of at least 99.99% of the specific grass clone being purchased, with enough of a soil layer to bear the roots necessary to survive transplanting. "Sod" consists of two or more kinds of grass or it is that which harbors noxious weeds like Nut Sedge, Common Bermudagrass, etc. It is produced by sloppy grass farms. I suggest you buy sod, not "sod". Sod should be delivered to the planting site within 24 hours of being cut. It must be placed on the ground within 48 hours of being cut. No exceptions. Sod is placed on graded, weed-free top soil which is moist 1/2 inch down.  The perennial weeds, like Johnsongrass, Nut Sedge or Common Bermudagrass are removed in the months before sodding, with a glyphosate-containing herbicide. Sod is ideally placed by two persons with a third person watering it with a hand-held hose as soon as it hits the ground. The first course is placed against the front curb or foundation of the house. Blocks in subsequent courses are placed with their seams offset. Once the topsoil and sod are very wet, they are rolled numerous times with a roller as least 1/2 full of water. The sod is to be watered often until the rectangles cannot be picked up because rooting has occurred. Afterwards, the lawn is watered whenever the blades of grass first show evidence of wilting in the morning. To achieve deeper water penetration, a lawn is watered on 2 consecutive mornings and not watered again until evidence of wilting first appears in the morning.


The botanical images on this site were produced by The Photon Hunt.

Thank you for visiting!,
Copyright at Common Law by Manuel Flores