Right now in late winter is the second best time to plant woody ornamentals (the best time is in the autumn). Choose from woody plants growing in containers, field grown with balled-&-burlapped root systems, and bare-root plants.
1. Container-grown plants are the most common source for nursery stock, are widely available and provide the best success for gardeners. The potting mix in the container is filled with vigorous white roots just hitting the sides of the pot. First, loosen a wide area of soil in the new garden site, dig a hole nearly the same size as the pot (but not deeper), and pop in the rootball, firming the surrounding soil and watering in thoroughly. Nothing could be simpler!
Occasionally, the plant has been in the container too long, and the roots may have begun to circle around inside the pot. Either tease them out and point them in divergent directions in a wider planting hole, or else eliminate circling roots by trimming off with sharp pruners. Another possible red flag to consider with containers is die-back due to the sun striking one side of the pot and baking the roots on that side due to the heat. Choose shaded containers.
The majority of my garden plants are purchased as container-grown, with the added advantage that they can be planted 12 months out of the year. Another bonus is that multiple sizes (and prices) are often available, and I can often choose an economical smaller size.
2. Balled-&-Burlapped plants, often abbreviated as B&B, are mainly larger-sized, field grown trees and shrubs that have been dug out of an in-ground nursery with a ball of soil around the roots. Great care is taken to wrap the entire sphere (typically 1 to 3 feet in diameter) in burlap and then tie it securely at the base of the trunk, ready to be transported. Depressions are made in the sales yard for these balled plants, and they are heavily mulched and carefully watered until sales day. The great advantage of B&B plants is their larger size, providing a more mature look when planted in the landscape.
Avoid split or cracked root balls, or root balls that have become dried-out with wilted shoots and leaves. Pick B&B plants up from the bottom of the soil balls and don’t grab the trunks to sling around. When planting, remove every bit of burlap and fasteners to give the root ball contact with the native soil. Roll it to one side, then pull off the burlap and roll it into the hole, making sure the trunk is perpendicular to the ground
before firming the surrounding soil and watering in.
I have had good success with a lush Doublefile Viburnum, a pink Eastern Dogwood and six large, 3-inch caliper Southern Magnolias planted as B&B specimens.
3. Bare-root plants are harvested only in the winter when dormant, and all soil is washed away from the roots, leaving them “naked” or exposed. Bare-root plants have the advantage of being light in weight therefore cheaper to ship over distances, providing a wider selection of unusual varieties available from individual specialty growers. When bare-root plants are received, visually inspect for extensive, healthy white or creamy root systems, and avoid dried out roots, slimy black waterlogged roots, and plants prematurely breaking dormancy. When planting, build up a cone in the middle of the hole and set the bare crown at or slightly above the soil level but not below (peonies are a special case). Spread the roots out in a 360 degree pattern to take advantage of the entire soil volume available. Bare-root plants typically establish more quickly because the roots can be spread out and become acclimated to the native soil.
Roses, fruit trees and vines, and perennial veggies such as asparagus, horseradish and rhubarb are most commonly sold bare-root.
No matter how you get your plants, care for them by providing a light organic mulch and watering until the roots are well established. Have you had good success with one of these? Let us
hear from you!
Photo credits and sincere thanks: 3 versions, NY.gov; container-grown and teased out roots courtesy CES-NCSU.edu; balled-and-burlapped sketch, Answer.com; and bare root photo ThriftyFun.com