Thread: pot-bound trees?

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  1. #1
    Oak
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    cottageville, south carolina
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    203

    pot-bound trees?

    i was at one of the poplular home improvement centers yesterday, lets just call it the "opposite of highs". i wasn't expecting to be buying any trees but i noticed some tall oaks that had fallen down in the wind. i didn't think they were still selling these trees. they had a few shumard and pin oaks, labeled at $19, plus %20 off. i found a nice shumard with a thick trunk and the only one that wasnt staked. it rang up a $9.99 . but of course when i went to plant it this evening i found a huge matted/twisted up mess of roots. i tried for probably an hour to untangle the roots. most of the roots, atleast the larger ones, could not be straightened out due to the bends in them. is this tree doomed? will the roots find a new path or strangle themselves? i don't know how they can sell trees this size, approx. 8' tall, in these tiny containers and expect them to thrive. anyone had any luck with trees like these?
    peace to all

  2. #2
    Oak
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Knoxville,Tn
    Posts
    356

    RE: pot-bound trees?

    I've had terrible luck with trees like that. What they do is stay the same size for years while the roots try to re-establish. Since what I have of these was basically free I can't complain but one bunch I got free took off after 2 seasons. They were Nuttall Oaks. Had them about 4 seasons and they are about 7-10 ft tall with 2 drought summers in a row.

  3. #3
    Oak
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Central Indiana
    Posts
    562

    RE: pot-bound trees?

    The key is wide holes, good soil, and patience. In my opinion, you might as well buy a short tree because it will catch up in height while the tangled roots are growing out in new directions. I must say that the "opposite of high" store has been better luck for me than some other places I've bought trees.

  4. #4
    Oak
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Location
    Western NY, Zone 6
    Posts
    348

    RE: pot-bound trees?

    Dig wide, shallow holes, and use a utility knife to score (cut - from top to bottom vertically) the sides of the container ball where the roots are circling around. Rough up the soil in the hole then make a small mound (of good topsoil or native soil) then set the tree on that, and build up a "mound" of soil so the tree is above grade. The biggest mistake people make (I'm guilty also) is planting a tree too deep, below grade, which generally results in the tree wilting/dying.

    It's not out of the ordinary for a containerized tree to become "pot-bound" as you mentioned, whatever roots can't be "teased" by hand to straighten out should be cut using a utility knife. By cutting the roots circling around the inside of the pot, you'll encourage the tree to sprout new roots in its permanent location which will help anchor it into the ground even faster. I've used this method with several trees I have planted in the past and it has worked great every time. Most nurseries will recommend this exact process whenever you purchase a containerized tree from them.

    I've bought some very nice trees from the "despot" and "opposite of high" in containers and they have all done quite well. Picked up a 10' tall Cleveland Flowering Pear from the "despot" a few weeks ago and it is growing vigorously. It all has to do with how the tree is planted. I REFUSE to pay $100+ for any tree (especially from overpriced nurseries) when I can get seedlings (which have a far better chance of survival) practically for free from my county and from Arbor Day. After a few years, if properly planted and cared for, a seedling can easily out-grow and out-perform a taller, 5-6 year old overpriced container tree from a nursery.

  5. #5
    Oak
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    cottageville, south carolina
    Posts
    203

    RE: pot-bound trees?

    thank you all. i know smaller trees would be in better shape but i couldnt resist the price. i didn't cut any roots except for the ones that were so knotted up that they couldn't be pulled free. so the ones that made a 90 degree bend back towards the middle could/should have been cut? i have another question that's kind of related. whenever a new business is opened now, it's required by the county, or someone, to have trees planted. i've seen a few business with many trees planted in very close proximity to each other. many of these trees are live oaks, bald cypress, red oaks. are these trees that they plant pot-bound from being in those containers and maybe they're never going to grow to there mature size? they seem to plant them without regard to how big these trees can get.
    peace to all

  6. #6
    Oak
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    cottageville, south carolina
    Posts
    203

    RE: pot-bound trees?

    well, most all of the leaves started slowly falling off of this tree about 2 weeks after i planted it. i just noticed last weekend that some new leaves have started to grow in the place of the old leaves . so i guess there may be hope that it will make it now.
    peace to all

  7. #7
    Oak
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Location
    Western NY, Zone 6
    Posts
    348

    RE: pot-bound trees?

    If you're getting new growth, that's definitely a good sign. Trees will generally drop leaves after you mess with the root ball (whether that be scoring the roots in a container-grown tree or teasing/cutting roots to prevent further circling), because there is a degree of root die-off, hence leaves supported by those roots will be dropped. Eventually, if the tree is cared for properly and given the RIGHT amount of water and nutrients, the root system will expand and new foliage will grow.

    Oaks definitely take their time growing new roots after they are transplanted. I planted 3 Swamp White oaks about a month ago, and none of them have anchored themselves into the ground firmly yet. On the other hand, I planted a River Birch that I picked up from a home depot that was in bad shape (but only $10), after I put it in the ground in early Summer and gave it regular waterings and occasional light doses of liquid fertilizer, it has exploded with new growth and is firmly anchored in the ground. Normally trees in my area need stakes due to high winds and cold winters, but the River Birch took a recent 50-60MPH storm (remnants of Hurricane Ike) like a champ without any staking, and didn't budge.

  8. #8
    Oak
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Eastern PA
    Posts
    457

    Re: RE: pot-bound trees?

    Quote Originally Posted by Upperhand
    ... build up a "mound" of soil so the tree is above grade. The biggest mistake people make (I'm guilty also) is planting a tree too deep, below grade, which generally results in the tree wilting/dying...
    Just FYI, the solution to planting a tree too deep is not to plant it above grade on a mound...

    The depth of planting is the soil level relative to the root flare of the tree - you don't want to bury the root flare of the tree. If the root flare is under the dirt, whether the tree is below or above grade, you'll be putting stress on the tree.

    You plant a tree in a mound above grade of the surrounding land when you want it to stay drier than the surrounding soil - it really only helps when the tree is small; as the tree grows its roots will get down into that wetter soggier soil you were trying to avoid, and the tree has a good chance of failing. I equate this practice with planting the wrong tree in the wrong place - trees that like it dry should be planted where the ground tends towards the dry side, and the wet areas are best left to the thirsty trees that prefer those locations.
    Cheers,
    Everett

    Green Man Enviroscaping LLC
    www.greenmanenvy.com

  9. #9
    Oak
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Location
    Western NY, Zone 6
    Posts
    348

    Re: RE: pot-bound trees?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ellyssian
    ...

    You plant a tree in a mound above grade of the surrounding land when you want it to stay drier than the surrounding soil - it really only helps when the tree is small; as the tree grows its roots will get down into that wetter soggier soil you were trying to avoid, and the tree has a good chance of failing. I equate this practice with planting the wrong tree in the wrong place - trees that like it dry should be planted where the ground tends towards the dry side, and the wet areas are best left to the thirsty trees that prefer those locations.
    I agree in part with the above; however, in new construction sites, I think mounds are the way to go for young trees. In new construction sites (new homes or commercial builds), there are often a lot of problems with soil compaction from the machinery driving on top of the soil. It's advantageous to keep that root ball above the grade in a mound while the soil situation sorts itself out over the years. For example, earthworms and other beneficial nematodes take their time in restoring their healthy populations within the compacted (and tilled) soil, so water drainage capacity of the soil would improve over time in sites that may initially drain poorly after soil compaction from heavy machinery.

    Also, most trees do adapt to the soil conditions. Adaptation takes time. Keeping the root ball above grade in a mound will allow the tree to gradually root into the heavier, wetter soil, rather than dropping it into that situation early on which will usually cause rapid failure of the tree. You have to consider that container-grown trees are in good drainage situations (excess water can just run out of the container), mounds help drain excess water away from the tree, which maintains the good drainage and reduces transplantation shock.

  10. #10
    Oak
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Eastern PA
    Posts
    457

    RE: pot-bound trees?

    I think you hit on a better solution for the compacted soils: till them!

    The compacted soils in new construction is often compounded by two other issues:

    1) the builder scraped away the good topsoil on the site

    and

    2) the builder trucked in scrap fill, overloaded with rocks

    They do this to prevent the heavy equipment from sinking in - and it gives them a jump on the compaction!
    Cheers,
    Everett

    Green Man Enviroscaping LLC
    www.greenmanenvy.com


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