In late winter and early spring, many trees are sold as 'Balled and Burlapped' trees. These are trees with the roots and soil contained in burlap held together by twine or in a wire cage. These trees have been grown in the field for two, three or many more years and are removed from the ground either by hand or machine.
The advantages of purchasing a field grown tree is that you obtain a large sturdy tree that will make its presence known immediately in your landscape. The B and B trees are many times larger in size than the average container grown trees found in most nurseries. Because of this you can see its growth habits and determine if this is the tree for your particular desires without purchasing and waiting for a smaller tree to develop. The disadvantage is that removing the tree from the ground, many roots particularly feeder roots are cut and left behind, requiring a bit more extra care to ensure survival. It may take several years for the tree, especially a larger tree, to fully recover and begin to grow vigorously again.
BUYING YOUR TREE
While at the nursery to purchase a tree make sure you examine not only the tree, but the root ball itself carefully. Does it seem large enough to support this tree? A very large tree with a small root ball may mean that the tree will have a difficult time making the adjustment to a new location. The American National Standards Institute recommends minimum root ball sizes for field-grown trees based on trunk diameter or tree height. A chart of accepted root ball sizes published by the University of Florida Extension Service can be found at: http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/root-ball-dimension-chart.shtml. . Because of these standards most root balls will be of sufficient size. If the root ball's burlap material and ties appear loose, it might not hold up very well in transport and can be damaged easily. If you see many fine, white colored roots poking through the burlap that is very good sign, they are the roots that will feed the tree. You want to take the entire root mass home with you. If there are no hair roots ask the nursery staff if the tree is a new one, this will explain the lack of roots. But if it has been in the nursery for a few months with no new roots showing you should find another tree to purchase. The root ball should be moist not dry. If the tree is showing foliage inspect the leaves and stems for any spotting, odd discoloration, or browning which could indicate lack of water, disease, or pests. Don’t be afraid to ask question regarding anything that doesn’t look right to you. You have no control over the care of the tree before you make the purchase but knowing what to look for in the nursery and what questions to ask can help in making the right choice. Purchasing a tree is an investment, an investment that grows and can add much value to your property.
PLANTING YOUR TREE
Balled and burlapped trees and shrubs may be planted any time of the year provided they were dug during the dormant period and after planting receive ample water during hot, dry weather.
Planting a balled and burlapped tree differs somewhat from a container grown tree and requires a few extra steps to do it correctly. Since you are buying the tree including the roots and the immediate soil that the tree was growing in, you will want to take extra care in handling it. Do not drop it, step on it or otherwise abuse it. Plant the tree as soon as possible. If not planting it for a couple of days cover the root ball with mulch and keep it moist. This mulch can be used later to amend soil when planting.. Set the tree in a protected area out of drying wind and direct sunlight.
Dig your hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the depth of the root ball. Carefully place the root ball in the ground making sure the top of the root ball is level or just above the existing soil surface. Never pick up the tree by the trunk. The roots themselves can not support the weight of the ball. Never drop the root ball into the hole as this also can break the roots. If the root ball is too heavy to pick up you can make a ramp by cutting down one side of the hole so the root ball can be slid to the bottom of the hole. By sitting the root ball one or two inches above ground level will insure the tree does not settle over time below the existing soil level. You always want this area to be well drained and never a collection area for irrigation and rain water. Mix an organic soil amendment or your own home-made compost, at a 50/50 ratio with soil that was removed from the planting hole. Fill the hole with enough of this soil mix to hold the tree in an upright position, and then cut the twine that is tied tightly against the trunk. Be careful not to scrap or damage the trees trunk or surface roots when removing burlap, twine, or wire cages. Open up the burlap and using scissors, cut and remove as much of the burlap as possible. Inspect the ball to make sure that there is not another layer of twine wrapped against the trunk or around the ball which is often the case in larger root balls. If so, remove this twine. It is best to remove wire cages and burlap completely when possible. Much of the burlap and twine used today is a synthetic material that may look like burlap, but will not deteriorate in the soil. This material if left around the root ball can restrict root development.
It is important to check for any soil that may have been pushed up against the trunk during the burlap wrapping. Additional soil is most often pushed up against the trunk to make the root ball more stable. This soil must be removed. Gently scrap away the soil that is against the trunk until you see just the beginning of the top of the first root. Checking for this additional soil is important in order that your initial hole depth is correct. If not checked your tree will be planted to deep. Again, be careful not to damage the bark.
You can now complete your tree planting. Finish filling your hole with soil mixture to top edge of root ball, tamping lightly as you go to remove any air pockets. Add a layer of mulch two inches thick taking care to keep the mulch six inches away from the trunk. You do not want moisture against the trunk as this can promote pest and fungal diseases.
Some trees may need support to survive harsh weather and winds until their root system develops enough to support itself. Staking kits are available at nurseries and garden centers. Your better nurseries can also help you acquire the materials and explain proper procedures to support the size of your tree properly. You can also go to the 'How To Stake A Tree' article in Gardenality under the Articles tab above.