For starters, what does bare root mean? It means that the trees are shipped in moist saw dust while they are dormant (in early spring) with only their roots. This is much easier on the tree because they are essentially asleep when they’re dug up at this time. Once it’s time to leaf out in spring, they are ready to grow with fury and experience very little transplant shock. Also, it doesn’t require plastic pots, soil amendments and packaging materials to ship them. 50 trees can be bundled together in one relatively small package, unlike potted trees that would take a massive truck to move that amount of trees. As much as timing is limited for planting bare root trees, it is still so worth it. There are so many reasons why we choose to grow this way.
Firstly, they do not have restrictions in their growth. Bare root trees are grown in beds of living soil at Northern Food Forest, and have better access to water, mycorrhizal connections, and other soil microbiology ultimately resulting in healthier trees. Their roots are massive and fibrous and untamed. Our nursery beds are our pride and joy and are teeming with organic matter. We never have to send our soil away, we simply keep building upon it each year and it gets better and better.
When trees are grown in pots it is very easy for the roots to circle around each other and become very restricted. This circling of roots is unnatural and can sometimes end up choking the tree as it grows. Sometimes the tree never recovers from this state. Potted trees are convenient as you can plant them any time of year, but bare root is profoundly healthier for the tree.
In addition to that, potted trees require a lot of water almost daily if there hasn’t been a deep rainfall during the growing season. Nursery beds are a completely different picture as there is so much more space for the soil to hold water. They do not require even a fraction of the amount of water that potted trees do.
Many nurseries also use synthetic fertilizers to maintain enough nutrition for potted trees. Synthetic fertilizers are extremely harmful to soil microbiology, the trees themselves, and to water ways. The trees themselves may appear healthy and robust and massive, but in reality they have been filled up on “junk food” aka synthetic fertilizers that actually can make them more prone to disease and insect pressure. It is important to know the growing philosophy that a nursery embodies to make sure the trees were raised in a way that aligns with your values.
If the health of the tree and the soil weren’t enough, bare root trees can also be sold for much cheaper prices than potted trees. This is because they do not require expensive potting mixes and resources in order to grow and be shipped. A potted tree is often three times the cost of the same tree bare root. The potted tree has a restricted root ball that may never recover.
We are in no way trying to demean the growers who grow potted trees. Our intent is to illuminate the immense benefits for quality bare root growing- one that keeps our soils healthy and waterways clean and our trees as healthy as possible.