Bare Root or Containers?

When planning a restoration we are often asked whether to use bare root or containerized plant material for a successful project.   There are pros and cons to both.  Lets explore both option.

Bare root material can help a project come in under budget.  You can get a good size plant at a good price allowing for you to over compensate when achieving success rates.  On the downside there is a limited planting window for bare root.  It can only be harvested while the plants are dormant.  Storage is also an issue.  Ideal planting times are while the plants are dormant so cold storage is required to maintain dormancy if temps are to get warm in the late spring.  Another thing to consider is that the harvesting of bare root material creates root disturbance to the plant.   Often this result is less plant growth the first year and more root development.  Watering is crucial to this development so be aware of this if water is limited to your site.

Container material can be more expensive depending on the size material that you specify.  A general rule of thumb is the smaller the plant the easier the transplant.  Generally,  a tubeling sized plant or a 1 or 2 gallon container is sufficient.  A good root to shoot ratio for tubelings are 6-12” tall.  1 gallon shrubs should be 18-24” and 2 gallon trees should average 2-3’.  As there is little root disturbance success rates tend to be high.  This may vary in difficult sites but that would hold true to most alternatives.  Growth is moderate to high the first year as it takes less time for the roots to establish.  This is helpful especially if erosion control is needed.  Usually within 2 years there is no difference in size between a smaller container plant and a larger bare root plant.


It is always important to know your budget and site conditions before making your decisions.  The better educated you are the more successful your project will be.


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