Balled and burlapped plants have been grown in field nursery rows, dug with soil intact, wrapped with burlap, and tied with twine. The size of the root ball will vary with plant size. The diameter of the root ball should be 10 to 12 times the diameter of the tree trunk measured 6 inches off the ground. Most of the plants sold as balled and burlapped (B&B) plants are large, evergreen plants and deciduous trees. They transplant best during late fall and early winter but can be successfully done in the spring. Some field-grown plants are being produced in fabric bags. They are handled essentially the same as B&B plants except the fabric bag should be removed at planting.
Many B&B plants are root pruned in the nursery so the root system will be more compact and fibrous. Even with the best nursery efforts, many (up to 95 percent) of the roots are lost in the digging process. The remaining small portion of the plant’s former root system can have difficulty absorbing enough water to meet the plants needs.
When selecting a B&B plant, be sure the ball is sound and hasn’t been broken. Avoid plants that feel loose in the soil ball. B&B material must be handled carefully. On most species if the soil ball is broken, many of the small roots will be severed from the trunk and the plant will die. Always pick the plant up by the soil ball --- never by the trunk or stem. Be sure the soil ball does not dry out or is exposed to hot summer or freezing winter temperatures for an extended period of time before planting.
The planting procedure is essentially the same as for container-grown plants. The burlap should be left on the root ball unless it was made from a synthetic material or has been treated with a chemical preservative. To determine the difference between natural and synthetic material hold a match to a small portion of the burlap. Natural material will burn while synthetic will melt. Untreated natural burlap has a tan color and is biodegradable. The burlap on top of the root ball should be cut, rolled back, and covered with soil. If part of the burlap is exposed above the soil line it can act as a wick that will remove moisture from the root ball.
After positioning the plant in the hole, remove any straps, ties, strings, or wires secured around the root ball. Wire baskets are often used to reinforce the root ball during shipping. Experts disagree on possible harm that the wires might cause if left in the planting hole. It might be safer to cut and remove the top portion of the basket. Removing the entire wire basket can cause the root ball to be damaged. B&B plants usually need little pruning at planting but may need careful watering during the summer.
© Erv Evans, Consumer