University of Maryland Extension

Purchasing Plants

Purchasing Plants - Once you know the plant you want, it’s time to visit the garden center or nursery. Trees and shrubs are available in a variety of root conditions. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  Be a smart shopper. Do your homework before you from a reputable source and ask for references.

trees bare root, B&B, container

Bare root, balled & burlapped and container grown trees

  • Bare root

    Plants have had the soil washed or shaken from their roots after digging and are most often sold by mail order nurseries. Always plant bare root plants when they are dormant. Never allow the roots to dry out prior to planting.

  • Balled and burlapped

    (B&B) plants are grown in nursery rows and have been root-pruned to keep most of the roots close to the base of the plant. The plants are dug and the root ball wrapped and secured with burlap or a plastic material. B&B plants are available in a wide range of sizes, including very large plants. B&B plants include varieties, especially trees, that aren’t available as bare root or container grown.

When selecting a B&B plant, make sure the ball is sound and hasn’t been broken. Avoid plants that feel loose in the soil ball or have been lifted by the trunk or stems. Make sure the soil ball does not dry out. B&B plants can be planted almost any time the ground can be worked. The larger the tree is at planting, the longer the establishment period.
  • Container grown 

    A wide variety of shrubs and small trees are grown in containers. Before buying, ask nursery personnel to remove the container and inspect the roots. Roots should be firm, healthy, and visible around the complete circumference of the root ball. Container-grown plants sometimes become root bound with their roots tightly coiled around in the container. These plants need special treatment to loosen the roots when planted. Container plants can be planted any time the ground can be worked.


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