Boosters of bare-root trees have a bargain for you

By Betsy Price
Wilmington, DE (September 9, 2010)- The tree-hugging Delaware Center for Horticulture has a deal for you: bare-root trees. Those trees, which are cheaper and lighter than their balled-and-burlapped counterparts, can be added to the landscape more easily than the heavier ones.

“The main advantage is that they’re very light, so they’re easily transported and easily planted,” says Mandy Tolino, Wilmington’s urban forest administrator. The trees cost $50 to $75 — a bargain compared to the several hundred dollars you’d otherwise pay. The trees don’t need a deep hole, but they do need a wide one to accommodate their roots. The Center for Horticulture, dedicated to creating greener communities in the First State, got into bare-root trees when it was searching for ways to plant more trees, says Jen Bruhler, DCH’s assistant director of urban forestry.
They found out that other groups used bare-root trees, and they discovered that Cornell University researcher Nina Bassuk had proven that bare-root trees work just as well in cities and yards as the balled-and-burlapped ones. ( The DCH planted some bare-root trees in spring 2007 at the Kingswood Community Center. “The first year we had received a grant but could only spend a limited amount on trees, so we were exploring other options to increase the tree canopy,” Bruhler says.
They began offering them for sale to anyone in the tri-state area in spring 2008. Since then, buyers have planted more than 600 bare-root trees. “We offer different tree species every spring and fall,” she says. The trees are 6 to 12 feet tall when they arrive for planting. This year, the DCH is selling: small trees such as flowering crabapple ‘Prairie Fire’ ($50), paperback maple ($50) and flowering serviceberry ($50); medium trees such as flowering redbud ($50), thornless honeylocust ($60) and flowering goldenrain ($60); and large trees such as Kentucky coffee ($75), London plane ($60) and Littleleaf Linden ($60).
As shepherd of Wilmington’s tree canopy, the DCH, which tracks where the bare-root trees are planted, plans to plant 20,000 trees by 2020. “This is one way to make it easier for people in Wilmington to plant trees,” Bruhler says. “But we’re also trying to reach out to other residents in the area because we’re the only source in the state and one of the few in the region who offer bare-root trees.” Area nurseries buy the trees, but they usually grow them for a while and then sell them as balled-and-burlapped plants.
Tolino planted her own bare-root tree in her front yard a year ago. It was about 15 feet tall when she bought it for $66. Now it’s about 20 feet, she says. The only trick with the trees is that they must be planted within a week. The exposed roots are dipped into a substance that keeps them hydrated, but not for long. Tolino offers one other piece of advice: Water.
“If you plant a bare-root tree, you should be aware that you need to water it,” Tolino says. That watering helps the tree grow more quickly. The DCH sells a “gator bag” for $35 that Tolino likes. It wraps around the tree trunk and holds 20 gallons of water that slowly releases into the ground so that it waters the tree over six hours. That prevents homeowners from having to stand there holding a hose for a long time, or leaving it on a trickle for a while, but those methods work, too, she says.
Autumn (when the leaves have dropped and the ground isn’t frozen) and early spring are the best times to plant trees, according to the DCH. Planting trees when they are dormant causes the least amount of transplant shock and gives them time to settle in their new home before the summer heat.
Related Resources:
The News Journal- Boosters of bare-root trees have a bargain for you
Delaware Center for Horticulture
Urban Landscaping- Part I: Bareroot Trees