Bare Root Stock performance

Discussion in 'Maples' started by mjh1676, Sep 18, 2004.

  1. mjh1676

    mjh1676 Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Southern Oregon
    Just wondered if anyone elses shares my frustration with the performance of bare root maple stock. Of the half-dozen or so nurseries I have mail order stock from, one nursery always sends true bare root trees. These trees have never performed well for me. True bare root meaning all soil removed if any existed and the roots packed in moist peat, in contrast to a reduced root mass or tube of some kind with soil still attached.

    I understand the practice, or necessity of practice for shipping purposes, but it seems my handling and shipping costs are the same whether I get a VERY BARE root tree or one with and equally sized root mass, but with some soil attached. So with that said, is it common, as it seems intuitive to me, that a tree fully bare rooted will take longer to establish in a pot than a tree with the same REDUCED root mass, but with soil attached.

    Secondly, I will admit that I must be doing something wrong as I find 90% of my bare root trees near the brink of death on their initial potting, but with a repotting in the same season, I can achieve minimal growth. This process has cost me a couple of trees, but generally I feel like I am wasting an entire growing season. I receive a tree in spring and plant in a pot; I then watch it through most of the summer while is flounders and then a repotting in late summer seems to revive the struggling specimen.

    In contrast, give me a little soil instead of a peat-packed rootball and I can do wonders. My point is not to suggest a deficiency in the bare root stock, but instead better understand the problem. I usually use a prepackaged non-soil mix of forest humus, find ground bark, perlite, etc. Should the bare root trees go in to a small fir bark mix for more oxygen? Regardless of care, do the roots of the bare roots trees come damaged and need some special care?
  2. mr.shep

    mr.shep Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    San Joaquin Valley, California
    Hi Michael:

    You are in a problematic area that has caused many
    a discussion in the past. There are no right or wrong
    answers for this one but what you have experienced is
    fairly common. I know of a conservation tree grower
    that sells seedlings of a large variety of trees. When
    municipalities would buy those trees there seemed to
    be about a 50% loss the first year. The grower claims
    that was due to mishandling once the trees arrived and
    due to the soil mixes being too rich in comparison to
    his field grown soil. There is a grain of truth in the
    above in that the field grown trees are not grown in
    a rich soil with high amounts of organic matter, nor
    having a lot of available nutrients either. We can
    shock a seedling by giving it too rich a medium to
    grow in.

    I've had plants come in here without soil and also in
    containers. If given a choice I would prefer the plants
    to be in their own soil and left in the container when
    they arrive to me.

    We always grew our own seedlings as we felt that our
    plants would have more vigor than if we were to bring
    in plants from elsewhere, especially true for Maples
    and deciduous Magnolias and Michelias. Conifer and
    Dogwood seedlings brought in for grafting stock may
    be a different story as we had good luck with Pinus
    Strobus and Thunbergiana root stock from a grower
    in Oregon.

    For many years the Maple growers I know or knew in
    Oregon would bring in seedlings for them to graft. I've
    always felt that it was better to grow your own as from
    a physiological standpoint I felt our seeds were better
    adapted to our growing conditions and the resulting
    seedlings would have much more vigor than seedlings
    would have from elsewhere. We did some trials of
    our own and we found conclusive proof that our own
    grown seedlings had a higher percentage take when
    we grafted them. The key is the root system and with
    a stronger root system we can produce a better plant.
    Field grown seedlings and even greenhouse seedlings
    do not have the root system ours can have even grown
    in a container out in the field. I know of a prominent
    dwarf Citrus grower that feels the same way about his
    seedlings as opposed to bringing in someone else's. For
    best results grow your own.

    If you must buy seedlings then ask the specialty growers
    in Oregon who are they buying from but mail order types
    are a crap shoot. Sometimes we get lucky and then there
    are times when we are not so fortunate. I would only
    consider someone that has been supplying wholesale
    nurseries that I know of and can monitor their results.

  3. mjh1676

    mjh1676 Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Southern Oregon
    Just lost my whole next post..I'll have to try again when I can clear my head.

    I think I had decided to change the title of my thread to:


    This came from the fact that when a small amount of soil is present, it seems to "buffer" root growth so that a dense root mass develops. When a bare root tree is planted in the same mix, without benefit of the original soil it was cultivated in, it struggles. This of course specific to a humus,decayed bark, perlite mix of relatively dense consitency, all would likely do well in fir bark, but I don't see the coarse bark mix as a good long term solution, so I try to move my trees to a more dense mix as early a possible.

    Is there some staging necessary, or are the bare root trees missing benifical fungi that we might assume live in the soil bound plants? Is it as simple as adding a "tree starter pak" to the planting.

  4. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    WA USA (Z8)
    Barerooting and storage/shipping kills most of the fine roots. Established container-grown stock still has all its roots.
  5. mr.shep

    mr.shep Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    San Joaquin Valley, California

    I'll stick my neck out on this one. A lot depends on whether we
    are getting bare root understock or are we receiving a named
    variety bare root? I've seen plants come into a few nurseries as
    bare root seedlings rather than coming in as cells. Personally,
    I do not like bare root seedlings for Maples at all. I will not grow
    them and I know of times when certain nurseries sent the plants
    back to the sender when they arrived bare root. If we bought
    conservation trees or seedlings thereof or from a Mid-West mail
    order house, then the plants may just arrive to us bare root but
    seedlings sold to us with no prior designation that the tree or trees
    would be arriving sans the soil is an entirely different matter. It
    is us, the buyer, that should have the choice to have the plant
    shipped in bare root or in a container or perhaps have the roots
    with soil encapsulated in plastic. When we assume the plant is
    being shipped in with a root ball we should expect to see a plant
    with a root ball. Should the nursery or supplier send us what we
    were not expecting, in view of our order and not expressed
    beforehand, then we have the right to refuse the shipment.

    Ron is correct in that storage of a root system for any length of
    time will cause injury to the plant. We know it is true no matter
    what anyone else may say but there are some plants that can
    adapt better to cold storage than others. I am not opposed to
    Roses being held in cold storage after they have been dug up
    in early Fall and then put into storage to be shipped a few months
    later. I am much more opposed to the waxing of the plant which
    can inhibit Spring growth here and the Roses were grown here to
    start with, in and around Wasco, California.

    Root systems on Japanese Maples is a different story as when
    many root systems are still living, even in frozen areas, Maple
    roots are in a state of flux whereby the roots are not initiating
    a lot of growth during the Winter, regardless of location. When
    we put the bare root trees in cold storage we in effect kill off
    some of the root hairs on the root system. We do not have a
    strong, root system to start with and then we injure the roots
    just to hold the plants over prior to shipment at a better time.

    Unless we know in advance that the variety of Maple we are
    to receive will be coming in bare root from the supplier then
    we acknowledge the impropriety otherwise should we accept
    the shipment. Sometimes, it has to be the principle that we
    follow, even if it costs a buck or two, in that I would rather
    send back the plants and pay for the return shipping if need
    be, rather than risk losing 50% of that stock in the next two
    years. I've seen growers lose that many bare root seedlings
    that have come into them in the above length of time. Why
    would I risk losing a Toyo nishiki coming in to me bare root?
    If I initially ordered five or more of them then losing one is
    not a big deal but if I only ordered one and it does not live to
    see its third year then I will not be happy about my ordering
    from that nursery again. I think with bare root trees that the
    old sentiment we "old timers" had still applies today in that
    any named variety sold to us and arrives to us bare root is
    quite unprofessional of the grower that shipped us the plant.
    Especially true if we did not know the plant was to arrive to
    us bare root in the first place.

    Growing a dense root mass on a bare root plant is a challenge
    as we do not know how much damage was done to the plant
    from the time it was pulled out of the ground or grown in a
    peat pot or cell in a greenhouse, the length of time the plant
    was in cold storage, the mishandling that may have occurred
    to the time we received the plant. I've had plants come from
    allover the US to me here and in many cases it is better that
    the plants come in without soil for the Ag Commissioner's
    Plant Inspection. That is just a given that we have to deal
    with in California but when people here ship to elsewhere,
    bare root, is it not due to state standards here that warrants
    a mandate on that kind of shipping. Some people want to
    save on shipping costs so they can apply more of their
    incurred cost on buying a few more plants than paying the
    cost for shipping in containers. I'll opt for the containers
    any day and every time but that is just me.

    Growing a healthy root system is for another day and perhaps
    another thread as well.

  6. mjh1676

    mjh1676 Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Southern Oregon
    Thanks Jim:
    Sorry for my delay. I have been pretty busy as well as struggling a bit with my own thread and wondering what direction or what knowledge I hoped to gain. From the simple postion of a collector snf individual buyer of named cultivars rather than large quantities of any particular sock for resale or propagation, I can gather the obvious recommendation of the need to act as informed buyer.

    I this case my frustration is dervied from the purchase of named cultivars in mail-order situations that have arrived in various conditions and that have performed across a wide spectrum. Knowing that I treat all my maples with similar practices and care, I could only assume that lack of quality or vigor in some subset of trees must be attributed to some factor. It so happens that this subset was largely the trees I received bareroot.

    As you point out, I could never understand that reason for receiving trees in this manner, without any soil, but with no history or experience in the matter, I could only assume it was acceptable practice. After watching the tree perform compared to cultivars recieved with some rootball intact, I could only assume that bareroot specimens represent a challenge to the grower to induce health and vigor.

    It seemed clear, as Ron points out, that some damage must have been done while preparing the bareroot specimens for shipment, I always assumed that the damage could easily be overcome with proper care and culture. While this maybe be true, the time lost in establishing health and reviving traumatized maples is time the tree could be growing if prepared and shipped properly by the grower. In addition, the fragility of bareroot trees clearly puts them at higher risk for disease and untimely death. While many species of shrubs and trees may be well-suited to the bareroot shipping process, it is clear that maples are not, especially in the case where they may be exposed to cold-storage situations in transition.

    Although I do not clearly understand all that may be required to grow maples with healthy root systems, I do now undestand what quality to look for when selecting trees-the revival and growth of root systems can be left to another thread and another time. We can close the book on this one.

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