When moving trees from our nursery to their final locations, is it best to dig them up bare root or with a significant root ball?
Answer: Transplanting this late in the season, when trees are beginning to break dormancy, it would be best if you could take as much soil with the roots as possible (not bare root). The reason is that most of the work of water uptake is actually done by little root hairs. Transplanting inevitably destroys many of the little root hairs. When the tree comes out of dormancy, the leaves transpire moisture, and if the root hairs have been damaged in transplanting and not had time to grow back, the moisture transpired from the leaves will be taken from storage roots and other plant tissues (this is why fall planting of bare-root stock is so good–the roots have had time to re-establish). This situation is what’s commonly called “transplant shock.” So, don’t shake the soil off of the roots–try to disturb the roots as little as possible.To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Sustainable Small-Scale Nursery Production. It focuses on the sustainable production of woody and herbaceous nursery plants, both in containers and in the field. It is not a primer for inexperienced growers, but a complementary source of information that concentrates on sustainable production techniques. Topics covered include integrated pest management, weed control and alternative fertilizers. The publication also introduces business management practices. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=60.