Before we continue, it should be stated that while bare root and containerised trees each have their own advantages and disadvantages, they will not significantly affect a tree’s health, so you can be happy knowing your tree will one day achieve its potential. Rather, it is your own preferences regarding price and time of planting that will make an option worthwhile.
What’s the difference?
Containerised trees are supplied in containers, while bare root trees are supplied without soil with their roots carefully wrapped in plastic. Trees can only be extracted from soil when they are dormant; dormancy occurs from late-Autumn to early-Spring when the tree sheds its leaves. Depriving a tree of nutrients during Spring and Summer is highly detrimental to its health as the tree will try to grow, but be unable.
So this is where the first difference is. Bare roots can be supplied only when the tree is dormant, while containerised can be supplied and planted anytime during the year. (Although, it is worthwhile to first research the time of year a particular species best establishes itself. And, in general, it is not recommended to plant trees in summer when they grow at their fastest rate as without established roots, it may fail to establish.)
As bare roots are supplied without soil, they are lighter and cheaper to transport, which makes them significantly cheaper (30-50%) than potted varieties. Hence, bare roots can be great value for money.
Next, as bare roots grow in the ground, their roots spread out in a natural fashion, which allows them to establish themselves effectively, giving them adequate access to soil from which they acquire their nutrients. Sometimes a containerised plant’s roots have inadequate room to grow, resulting in spiralisation, whereby their roots grow in spiral at the bottom of the pot, which puts it in a poor position come planting. Although, this usually only occurs in garden centres, rather than nurseries that will upgrade a tree’s pot as it ages.
It has been argued that containerised trees are better at establishing themselves when planted as they are supplied with nutrients throughout the transplanting process. Bare roots, on the other hand, often lose a chunk of their roots when transplanted, which can lead to water stress. However, this argument doesn’t really hold up, because the tree’s roots are wrapped with compost or hydrogel. Furthermore they are usually supplied as one or two year old trees, which ensures the roots are adequate for the above-ground matter. Altogether, providing the tree is well wrapped and planted promptly, it will be fine. If you can’t plant immediately, it is recommend to leave the tree in water, possibly with the addition of liquid fertiliser.
This leads to another advantage of containerised trees: they do not have to be planted immediately. This can be useful if you wish to gift a tree. And as containerised can be purchased whenever, you can purchase a deciduous in summer when it looks best. Furthermore, containerised are pruned so will have a nice shape on arrival. Bare roots on the other hand aren’t, which on-the-flipside can be useful if you wish to train a tree, as in the case of many fruits. Lastly, there are many options of containerised trees. One can purchase, for example, a 9 year old ornamental in 55L pot that can provide an immediate uplift to a garden.
Overall, all trees will flourish, providing they are looked after. Bare roots are cheaper and can be trained into a fan, espalier or cordon, but they are only available as one or two year old trees and can only be planted in the Winter. Containerised trees can be planted whenever, look better on arrival and come in a range of sizes, but they are more expensive and can be harder to train.
Jorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!
His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.
Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.