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Advantages of bare root

Since the introduction of container-grown plants to the UK in the 1960’s, we’ve reared several generations of gardeners who have known of nothing other than plants grown in pots.  It is these younger gardeners who can find it hard to believe that it is feasible - or even preferable - to buy and plant bare-root stock and so we thought it might be useful to highlight some of the advantages that this ancient and reliable method can bring to your planting:

 

  • Bare-root trees are usually cheaper than their container-grown counterparts
  • The roots of a bare-root tree have developed in their natural manner without the restricting influence of a container’s walls.
  • Bare-root trees are better able to cope with drought conditions; the compost of a container-grown tree - once dried out – can be very hard to re-wet and so the tree can end up dying in its own little dry oasis.
  • Quite a number of serious garden pests are harboured in the compost of container-grown plants and very quickly distributed both from nation to nation and within the country, infecting otherwise “clean” regions.  Good examples of this are Vine Weevil and the New Zealand Flatworm.  By virtue of the fact that they are shipped without any soil on them, this cannot happen with bare-root stock.
  • Container-grown stock is much heavier than equivalent-sized bare-root stock and so needs more precious fuel to transport
  • Container-grown stock is usually grown in compost containing varying proportions of peat, a finite resource that takes thousands of years to form.  As peat resources within Britain are coming under pressure, vast quantities are being imported from Baltic states and beyond to meet demand, offloading the problem to distant lands and using more precious fuel to transport it.  Species of flora and fauna unique to these peat wetlands are all threatened as a result.
  • Container-grown stock is also much bulkier than bare-root stock, so fewer plants can be fitted into a given lorry than the equivalent bare-root plants, using more fuel per plant to transport.  Order 100 Beech hedging plants in pots and you’d need a small van to collect them from your garden centre; take bare-root plants and put them in the boot of your Ford Fiesta.
  • Container-grown plants need pots which, almost invariably, are made from plastic, which is made from oil in a high-energy process.  Bare-root stock just needs soil, which is all around.
  • Bare-root stock rarely needs irrigation in the nursery and so uses a fraction of the water that a container-grown plant will need in its life.
  • Bare-root trees, if handled correctly, are frequently more successful in the long term as the roots are not hampered by the problems of a root-bound pot grown specimen.  Roots frequently spiral around within the pot, making a dense, circling tangle that is hard to undo.  If planting whilst the tree is in leaf, the teasing out of the roots will, in all likelihood, destroy a high percentage of the microscopic root-hairs that are the means by which a tree takes up water and, as a result, the tree will suffer severe wilt from which it may not recover.  If left alone, the tree may grow away quiet happily but, in 10 years time or more, as a gale might reveal when it blows the tree over, the roots have never broken out from the pot-shaped ball and have been unable to anchor the tree in the ground. 
  • If a container-grown tree is planted in a soil of heavier consistency than that of the surrounding soil, the planting hole in which it is placed can act like a drainage sump for the area and thus collect ground water from all around which, unable to drain away, turns into an anaerobic stew which quietly rots away the roots of the new plant.  By contrast, a bare-root tree is planted into the same soil as everything else and so there is an even moisture gradient throughout the planted area and it has all the nutrients it needs from the surrounding soil. 

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