How to - Techniques

Three tips for planting store-bought plants

Karen York
Photography by
Cybèle Young (illustrations)

From bare root to burlapped, give your nursery purchases a healthy start with these techniques

store-bought-burlap.jpgTechnique: Planting balled and burlapped plants
Plants that have been grown in the field—usually trees or large shrubs—are scooped out and their root balls wrapped in burlap and then tied with twine and/or enclosed in a wire basket for transport. They are usually listed as B&B (balled and burlapped) or WB (wire basket). They’re heavy but try not to manhandle them, as you don’t want the root ball to crumble inside the burlap. Always lift them by the burlap or basket, not the trunk or stem. Trees are best planted slightly high so dig a saucer-shaped hole 2.5 to 5 centimetres shallower than the height of the root ball and at least twice as wide (thrice is better). Get the height right because wrestling it out for a second try is not easy. Stabilize the plant in the centre of the hole. It’s best to remove as much of the burlap and/or wire basket as possible. Cut off all twine, then unknot the burlap and gently pull it away from the root ball. Cut off the loose burlap. Ease the rest out from under the root ball by leaning the plant one way, then the other—unless the root ball threatens to crumble, in which case leave that last bit of burlap in place. It will rot down eventually. Similarly, snip off all the wire basket that you can with wire cutters. Make sure the plant is set straight, then backfill with soil, firming it gently as you go and watering about halfway through. Once done, water the area thoroughly and mulch. One caution: some growers now use plastic tree bags or synthetic burlap (hold a match to a small piece; if it melts, it’s synthetic; if it burns with a flame, it’s true burlap). These plastics should definitely be removed.

Photo © Tyler Stalman, iStockphoto


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