Before you go bare-root shopping, here's what to look for.
How to get good buys, healthy plants. And how to recognize potential
As with fingerprints, bare-root trees are alike in general appearance but infinitely variable in detail. The differences make some trees desirable, others not. The pictures on these pages show which are which and help you learn how to shop.
How trees are measured, sold
As you go through bare-root beds this winter, you'll notice a link between shade tree age, size, and price.
Year-old trees, called whips, usually with few branches, are least expensive; most are 4 to 7 feet tall. A whip's pruning, tying, and other training will be up to you--the grower and nurseryman will have done little with it.
Branched trees more than a year old are usually sold by height; most bare-root stock is in this middle range. They have the beginnings of mature branch structure but will require a fair amount of additional pruning and training to take on the shape you want. (Fruit trees are usually smaller; they will also need careful pruning to establish the proper scaffold branches.)
Trees taller than 8 feet usually have stems at least an inch thick and are sold by caliper (stem diameter, measured 6 inches above the graft or--on ungrafted trees-- above the ground). Caliper sizes are in inches. Since most trees sold by caliper will have been under a nurseryman's care for three years or more, branch structure is fairly well established and the tree's shape set.
It's not likely you'll find a very large bareroot tree--2 1/2-inch caliper or more--in a nursery, though wholesalers grow them for landscapers. If you want one, your nurseryman can special-order it.
Remember, it's easier to hurt a large bare-root tree than a small one. Larger trees have more leaf area, lose water faster, and need more of it during their first two years in the garden.
First look at the top
As you examine any bare-root tree, start high. The most desirable trees usually have straight trunks, well-balanced tops, and a single leader. They also have uninjured and undiseased bark and a fairly straight bud union (see middle photograph at right).
Underground: the life-support system
When you've found a bare-root tree with a top that passes muster, ask to see the roots. These should be unbroken, reasonably straight (not growing in a circle or radically bent), symmetrical, and fibrous. They should not look shriveled or dry. Don't accept a plant with roots that do not meet these criteria: a tree's top growth can be corrected by pruning and tying, but its roots must look right when they go into the ground.
Plant at once. Though dormant, bare-root trees are alive, and they can quickly dry out and die if not planted or heeled in immediately after purchase.
Photo: Crooked trunk of maple (center) is a flaw, but some gardeners prefer it to straighter one at left. Bark canker (right) can result from injury or disease. Avoid such trees
Photo: Sizes of these London planes are 2 1/2 inch, 1 1/2 inch, 1 inch, and whip
Photo: Bigger trees are more firmly established in structure. The lesson: as size goes up, be more insistent on perfect branching
Photo: "Thundercloud' plum on the left is healthy and evenly branched. But the one at right is a cull--with lopsided branch structure
Photo: Avoid trees with two leaders, like this linden. You can cut one out, but often what remains is sparsely branched
Photo: Badly bent, these roots may have been potbound once. As they grow, the bends will meet, choking off food supply
Photo: Bud union--the swelling where top meets understalk--should be straight, as at left. Crooked union, right, means weaker trunk
Photo: This Washington hawthorn has few fibrous feeder roots and a damaged tap root. It may not survive
Photo: Healthy roots (left) are fibrous and evenly spread; lopsided roots (right) won't anchor tree well
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|Date:||Jan 1, 1985|
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