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Rootballed Plants by Charlie Pinder

Rootballed Stock – what’s it all about?

I often get asked about the pros and cons of rootballed stock (honest!). Well more precisely, why I always put people off planting container-grown hedging, when stonking rootballed stock is just around the corner. Rootballing is the process of lifting field grown stock and holding the root and soil together by tying it up in a ball with ‘Hessian’ or a ‘Burlap’; which is a woven sack-like material. I hadn’t heard the word ‘burlap’ mentioned since the mid eighties, when I was lifting large conifers ‘to order’ for Stewarts. Until that is, I was watching the episode of the Simpsons where Maggie utters her first words. In fact she burps and Homer is convinced her first word is ‘Burlap’. I was so happy, because I though only aging English Nurserymen knew of such a word! Blimey, what a digression!

Rootballed stock is normally available from November, but Nurseries will lift stock earlier if the weather permits (ideally cold and moist). The benefits of rootballed stock out-weigh that of container stock on many fronts:

Pros:

  • The plant is moved at its most dormant.
  • The plants are often bulkier and you certainly get more for your money.
  • A pre-lifted, field-ground plant has better access to nutrients and consistent watering.
  • Like for like, a rootballed plant is better value.
  • No pot to get rid off. The rootball can be placed directly into the hole.

Cons:

  • The plants can be more difficult to handle (a wet sack of soil and root can play havoc with your clothes – waterproofs are advised for wet-rootballs)
  • Timescale – ‘lifting’ is normally from November to March.
  • Convenience. You often have to buy good numbers of stock to get the good deals and of course, there will be a wait. However, many Nurseries these days carry a few rootballed plants during the winter, as well as open-ground hedging plants.

Which plants are best to buy rootballed?
The popular lines to buy as rootballed stock are evergreen hedging plants, ie:
Buxus (box), Taxus (yew), Laurels – Portuguese and common.
Also many deciduous shrubs are rootballed for potting on. Popular lines included Japanese maple, Hamamelis and Magnolias and for larger landscape projects, specimen trees will often be imported as rootballed.

Remember, winter is nature’s time for planting, so buying rootballed stock doesn’t necessarily mean you are taking more of a risk. Check out tired container-grown Taxus against fresh lifted Taxus and you will see such a difference. A pot-bound hedging plant will take longer to establish than a lush, fresh lifted plant in the winter.

I was going to title this article: ‘Rootballed Stock – what sad b*****d would write such an article’. But believe me if you are in the landscaping trade….do not under-estimate the power of the Rootball and indeed the savings to be made on open ground hedging plants during winter also.