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Difference between Bare Root, Rootballed and Container Grown Plants

The Difference Between Bare-Root, Rootballed and Container Grown Plants

When considering planting a hedge, it's important to choose the right type as it can affect cost, establishment time, and plant take rate. In this blog we talk about what bare root, rootballed and container grown plants are, the differences and the potential advantages/disadvantages of each.

A Bare-Root, Rootballed and Container Grown Plant

What are bare root plants?

Bare root plants are field grown plants that are dug out of the ground (usually machine lifted) with all the soil shaken off and are only sold in the dormant season from October to March, preferably before the end of January. Native hedging such as Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Beech and Hornbeam are usually sold like this and need to be planted as soon as possible otherwise the roots can dry out leading to losses.

Mathias bare root hedge

Advantages of bare root plants

Their main advantage is that they are dirt cheap and can be planted in a double row to account for any losses.

Considerations when planting bare root plants

When planting your bare root plants, we have a few recommendations to ensure they thrive and survive.

It is important to carefully prepare your planting area and consider that native hedging may need protection from vermin such as rabbits. Often, they tend to be smaller plants that are more susceptible to having their bark chewed by them. Additionally, because of the stress on the roots of the plants whilst being lifted and transplanted into your garden, it can be highly beneficial to consider using Mycorrhizal Fungi such as Rootgrow when planting bare root plants. Read more about the benefits of Rootgrow for bare root plants in our blog.

It should be noted that bare root plants will need to be planted as soon as possible after receiving them to avoid their roots drying out and undue stress being put on the plant. They are normally delivered in bundles with the roots being contained within a plastic bag to help retain moisture and if planting is not to be immediate, they should be stored in a cool location away from heavy frost or direct sunlight to try and keep their roots at a stable low temperature.

What are rootballed plants?

Rootballed plants are also field grown plants that are dug out of the ground during the dormant season (October to March) but the key difference is that they are lifted with a ball of soil around the roots which is then tied up with a piece of hessian sacking to protect the roots while they are out of the ground. They are then planted in your garden with the biodegradable hessian sacking still around the roots which quickly rots away while new root growth easily pushes through the hessian. It is a mistake to try and remove the hessian when planting as it can cause more damage to the roots if the soil falls away.

Mathias rootballed hedge

Advantages of rootballed plants

The main advantage of rootballed plants is that they are generally cheaper than pot grown plants but stand a much better chance of success than bare rooted plants. If lifted properly the plants stand an excellent chance of survival but often the root-balls are drooping like a wet baby's nappy and the soil drops off on planting which is useless!

Mathias ensures all plants are properly lifted with solid root-balls. Our field production is of a significant scale, and we have plants being lifted to order daily throughout the season. This will ensure the best chance of survival in your garden.

All our rootballed plants are mechanically root pruned annually in the ground to ensure a good dense root system with plenty of fibrous growth which holds together well in the root ball. As with any bare root plant, it is important to prepare your planting area properly and water after planting and during the period of establishment.

What is a container-grown plant (AKA a potted plant)?

A container-grown plant is grown in a pot (hence the term ‘potted plant’) and can be planted all the year round.

Mathias nurseries row of container grown potted plants

Advantages of potted plants

The great advantage is that they have more root and hit the ground running in the first year. Since they have no root disturbance on planting you really should have no losses from potted plants if they are looked after properly and they will produce a quicker better hedge. They may cost a bit more, but you are far more likely to get the hedge that you want and quicker.

As there is no root disturbance with a pot grown plant (unlike bare root and rootballed plants), there is less stress put on the plant which makes it easier for the plant to establish quickly in your garden. As they are not being lifted from a field like bare root and rootballed plants, they can be planted all year round, whether the plant is dormant or in active growth. If planting during the summer months however, aftercare should be given proper consideration, especially in respect of watering.

So, which type of plant should you choose? Commonly asked questions

We answered commonly asked questions about bare root and rootballed plants below to help make the decision easier.

Is rootball or potted better?

If your budget allows for the higher price, then always plant a container grown plant as they will establish much quicker in your garden and will give you a better rate of growth in the first years after planting.

What are disadvantages of using bare root plants?

Bare root plants are much more susceptible to failure and some level of losses should be expected. The act of digging a plant out of the ground and shaking off the soil around its roots can stress the plant and make it much more vulnerable to drying out. It may take many months before you see the effects of this, and you should expect a poorer growth rate in the first year or two after planting.

Can a bare root tree be planted in a container?

Yes, a bare root tree can be planted in a container but often it won’t thrive. However, if looked after adequately it should survive. All trees benefit from roots to get nutrients and water out of the soil. If planting in a container you are naturally restricting its ability to do this, so don’t expect it to grow as well. You will need to consider the size of the container and a regular watering and fertilising regime to keep it healthy.

Why are bare root plants cheaper?

Growing plants in a field on a nursery is a much cheaper way of producing them as much of the work can be mechanised, so the savings in production costs can be passed on to the customer. Aside from the fact that there is not the cost of the pot and compost of a potted plant, the volume and size of the pot can also affect the ease of shipping as they cannot be packed as densely into vehicles or onto pallets.

Is rootball better than bare root?

Rootballed plants are preferable to bare root plants. Although both are field grown, the act of retaining a ball of soil around the roots helps to preserve moisture and reduce physical damage on the root system during transplanting, thus giving them a much better chance of success when planted.

Still unsure? Read our guide to choosing the right hedge for your next project where we cover key points to consider and make the decision easier.

Speak to the hedge experts at Mathias Nurseries

For more details on bare root plants, root ball hedging plants and container grown plants available from the nursery please call 01252 714552 or email, our team would be more than happy to help.

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