University of Maryland Extension

Purchasing Plants

Plant Selection Tips

      Bare root                    Balled & Burlapped    Container Grown Trees
trees bare root, B&B, container

Bare Root Plants

  • Bare-rooted plants have had the soil washed or shaken from their roots after digging. Nearly all are deciduous trees or shrubs that are dormant. Most mail order plants are of this class because plants in soil are too heavy to ship economically.
  • Bare root plants are planted while dormant. Never let the roots dry out. This is perhaps the single most important reason for failure in planting bare-rooted plants. Keep roots in water or wrapped in plastic or wet paper until you are ready to plant.
  • Bare-rooted plants may need root-pruning at planting time to repair damaged roots as well as stem-pruning to correct broken stems.

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 (do not lift plants using the trunk or stems).
  • Keep the soil ball watered, especially before planting, and make sure it 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.

 Additional Resources

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