Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines

Wash Tree Roots Before Planting

by Charlie Nardozzi


Fall is a great time of year for planting deciduous trees around the country. If you’re planting large balled and burlapped trees, you know there is as much work involved moving the tree to the hole as there is in planting it. Now new research from Virginia Polytechnic Institute may help make planting large trees easier and more successful.

For years home gardeners have been told to keep the rootball intact when planting to ensure the most success. But researchers in Virginia have experimented with a technique first tried by the Community Forestry Consultants in Spokane, Washington. Before planting they washed the soil off the rootball to create a bare-root plant. It seems there are several advantages to root washing. It exposes the root system so you can prune any circling or damaged roots. Root washing allows you to more easily locate the root crown, and makes the tree easier to handle and plant at the proper depth.

Continuing this experiment, researchers at Virginia Tech wanted to find out if root washing had any negative impacts on the tree's future growth. So they washed the roots of one-quarter of the 3-1/2- to 4-inch-caliper red maple trees. One-quarter of the remaining trees were planted with the rootball intact, one-quarter had the soil removed by air blasting, and one-quarter were dropped 10 feet (to simulate removal from a truck), which caused some of the soil to fall off the roots. Researchers planted a group of these trees in March and another group in July in the 95-degree heat. By October, to their surprise, all the trees, regardless of the treatment, were deemed healthy and had similar growth rates. They plan on continuing the trials next year.

For a copy of the May 15, 2007, issue of American Nurseryman magazine with the article “The Bare Root of the Matter" about this research, go to: American Nurseryman Magazine.

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