Types of Nursery Stock

When purchasing trees and shrubs, gardeners can choose from among bare-root, balled and burlapped (B & B), and container-grown materials. Important considerations, such as cost, size, and planting season, vary with the different forms of plant material.

Bare Root
Bare root stock

As the name suggests, bare-root trees and shrubs have no soil around their roots. The nursery stock is dug in late fall, placed in cold storage, and then is shipped to garden centers or directly to the consumer in early spring. Trees and shrubs ordered through mailorder nurseries are generally bare-root. Bare-root plant material includes deciduous trees and shrubs and seedling evergreens. Plant size of bare-root nursery stock is limited. The maximum height of bare-root deciduous trees is 6 to 8 feet, evergreen seedlings may be up to 2 feet tall. The length of the planting season for bare-root stock is also limited. Bare-root material must be planted in early spring before growth begins. However, bare-root stock is the most economical way to purchase trees and shrubs.

Balled and Burlapped
Balled and burlapped stock

Balled and burlapped nursery stock is dug with a ball of soil around their roots. The root ball is wrapped in burlap and held in place with twine or nails. Large trees are placed in wire baskets for additional support. Balled and burlapped stock is generally larger than bare-root material and is also more expensive. Large shade trees, shrubs, and evergreens are usually sold balled and burlapped. The planting season of B B plants is much longer than bare-root material. While spring is the best planting time, balled and burlapped material can be successfully planted until early summer and again in late summer through mid-fall. Plantings made in mid-summer (July to early August) are often subjected to hot, dry weather and are more prone to failure.


Container-grown stock has been grown in a container for one or more seasons. As a result, container-grown plants have well developed root systems. The planting season for container-grown stock is the same as for balled and burlapped material. Generally, container- grown plants are smaller in size and lower in price in comparison to balled and burlapped stock.

Trees and shrubs are also sold as containerized or potted plants. While potted plants and container-grown material look similar, they are quite different. Potted plants are bare-root trees and shrubs that have been recently potted into containers. As a result, their root systems are poorly developed and the soil often falls away from the roots during transplanting. In comparison, when the pot on a container-grown plant is removed, the root ball usually remains intact because of the well developed root system. Because of the limited root system of potted plants, proper care during and after planting is critical. Planting failures are often higher for potted plants compared to container-grown nursery stock due to their higher maintenance requirements.

This article originally appeared in the April 23, 1999 issue, p. 46.

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