A program of Keep Western New York Beautiful
A program of Keep Western New York Beautiful
BARE ROOT PLANTING GUIDE
FOR RE-TREEWNY VOLUNTEERS
C/O CITADEL BROADCASTING * 50 JAMES E. CASEY DR. * BUFFALO, NY * 14206 * 716/888-9766 * FAX 716/884-2931
Re-TreeWNY provides this guide to help volunteers understand the rationale behind
bare root tree planting and to train them in the proper method of bare root planting to
better ensure the survival of the trees.
HOW TREES ARE GROWN
There are three main nursery production methods;
Bare Root Container Grown Balled & Burlapped
Container Grown trees are generally the most expensive to produce of the three
methods and are subject to circling roots that can reduce a tree’s vigor. While the
lightweight media used in containers is useful for free drainage out of pots, once in the
ground the media may lose its water too readily to the surrounding native soil. There is
also an issue where the ‘engineered’ media interfaces with the native soils as this
interface may impede root development.
Balled & Burlapped (B&B) production means that a protective ball of soil surrounds the
roots at harvest. The cost of planting a B&B tree however is markedly higher because
the sheer weight involved. Harvesting the tree requires large machinery; operators must
then use machinery to load the trees onto trucks and tractor trailers. Due to the weight of
the soil only a fraction of trees can be transported as compared to bare root and
container grown stock. Machinery and operators are required to unload the trees from
the truck or trailer and place the tree into the planting pit. In addition to the logistics of
transporting around several hundred pounds of soil for each root ball, almost half of the
root mass is removed from the tree during harvest.
The third production method is Bare Root. This simply means that the trees are
harvested from the ground without soil. Not all tree species can be transplanted bare
root, but for the species that can be transplanted bare root there are many positive
1. You can plant more trees for the same cost as the other methods. Bare root trees
are typically one third to one-half less expensive than B&B and container grown
trees. Because they are so much lighter and many more can be transported at the
same time they are less costly to ship per tree. Planting bare root trees typically
requires no machinery or operators to move the trees around. Because the planting
pit required is shallow and wide excavators and operators are typically not required
to prepare the pit. Bare root tree costs are remarkably inexpensive when performed
by volunteers armed with shovels.
2. You will take more roots along. A simple study was done at Cornell University to
compare the amount of roots in a B&B harvested tree with the root mass on a bare
root harvested tree of the same size and species. The bare root harvested trees had
200% more roots. The reason for this is the harvesting machinery for bare root trees
digs a much larger root system than the tree spade used for B&B harvesting.
3. You will be apt to plant the tree at the proper elevation. Frequently when a newly
transplanted B&B tree dies, it is because it was planted too deep. When the fine
absorbing roots are buried too far down, they can’t access oxygen and the tree
suffocates. When B&B trees are harvested the soil may be mounded on the trunk,
making it difficult to see the root flare. On the other hand, the root flare of bare root
trees is obvious and the proper planting depth easy to determine.
PLANNING YOUR PLANTING
You want to start planning your planting about fours months in advance. In this early
stage you will need to solicit volunteers for the planting effort. Once you have a count of
volunteers you can then determine how many trees can realistically be planted. Typically
we recommend two trees per volunteer which works out to a 2-3 hour planting period. If
your volunteer group is made of energetic young athletes you may wish to try for a larger
Now that you have your estimated number of trees you will need to find approved
locations to plant them. Since Re-Tree WNY is involved with all storm affected
communities please refer to your individual municipalities Re-Tree WNY representative
for information on how to find acceptable planting locations, and how to document them.
Re-Tree WNY strongly encourages that property owners are notified that you are
planning on planting a tree at their location. After planting, care is critical to the
survivability of newly planted trees. Getting a commitment from a property owner to
water the tree when it needs it during the first year or two will greatly increase its chance
Tree species selection will be dictated by the municipality in which you are planting. As
above, please refer to your individual municipality’s Re-Tree WNY representative for
information on acceptable species.
Now you have locations and species selected and Re-Tree WNY can order your trees.
At Least Three Months Prior to Planting Day
Re-Tree WNY will be obtaining quotes from nurseries to purchase the required plants. It
is imperative that the list of locations and species be provided to your municipality’s Re-
Tree WNY representative three months prior to the planting date. Fall plantings will
typically occur the first week of November, so lists should be completed the first week of
August. Spring plantings will typically occur mid-April, so lists should be completed in
Re-Tree WNY will place the order for the trees, stakes, tree ties and watering bags so
that all volunteer planting groups have all the needed supplies.
Ten Days Before Planting Day
You must call Dig Safely New York at 1-800-962-7962 with the addresses for planting
locations. You may ask them if they would like you to mark your proposed planting site
ahead of time (usually with a white spray paint circle). You will receive correspondence
from each utility determining if the location is acceptable for tree planting. Please be
prepared to adjust your planting site to accommodate utilities.
Remind your volunteers of the upcoming planting date. Make sure that you have all the
necessary tools; shovels, sledge hammer for stake pounding, scissors or pruners for
removing twine from the tree and cutting tree ties, rakes and brooms for cleaning up and
work gloves are recommended.
Picking Up Your Trees
Since Re-Tree WNY is active in many municipalities there will be variations to the
following process. Typically plantings are scheduled on weekends. Re-Tree requires that
trees be delivered from the nursery to a central location two days ahead so that the trees
can be counted and inspected. The trees will then be sorted at this centralized location.
You shall pick up the trees that you requested on the Friday prior to the planting
weekend. Bare root trees are light, about 15-20 lbs., and are about 8-feet to 12-feet high
depending on the species. You will also need two stakes for each tree. The stakes are 6-
feet long and weigh about 6 lbs. each. A pick up truck with a tarp is recommended for
picking up your trees and stakes.
In limited cases where a larger quantity of trees are scheduled to be planted in a
neighborhood, Re-Tree WNY will work with its partners to provide a delivery truck and
bring the trees and supplies to the site. However, representatives from your group must
be present to aid in loading and unloading the truck.
Once the trees are at your site, store them in a cool, shady and protected area until you
are ready to plant them. During this storage period root desiccation is the disadvantage
to planting bare root trees. Storing the trees in the sun or in an open area even on
cloudy days can dry out the tree.
If all of your volunteers could not attend one of the Re-Tree WNY bare root planting
training sessions you will need to train them. It is critical for the survival of the tree that it
is planted correctly, so please be sure all of your volunteers are properly educated on
how to plant using the bare root method.
On the day of planting, bring trees and lay them down in a central, shady staging area.
Keep them out of the sun
1. Carry the trees to the planting site with the bag still on. Lay tree on its side and
remove all string and plastic tags, leave the tree species tag on the tree. Forestry
will need the species information to update the tree inventory.
2. Prune off only broken branches while the tree is laying on its side, it is much
easier to prune at ground level. Do not prune any other branches as the tree will
need as many leaves as possible during the growing season.
3. Remove the grass sod at the planting location. The width of the hole should be
approximately 4-feet across. Set grass sod aside.
4. Dig shallow planting hole.
5. Remove tree from bag only when the hole has been prepared. You want to
minimize the time the tree roots are exposed to the air. After the first tree is
planted the plastic bag can be used at the second location to place the
excavated soil on, it makes it easier to clean up.
6. Plant the tree so that the beginning of the root flare is visible at soil level. It is
critical not to plant the tree too deep. Lay your shovel across the hole to see
where the shovel meets the root flare and adjust the planting depth accordingly.
If you anticipate settling of the soil, plant a little high. It is better to plant too high
than too deep.
7. Check to see that the tree is plumb, then backfill with the native soil that you
have removed. When you’ve replaced half of the backfill, water the hole to help
collapse air pockets. Alternatively, use the opposite end of your shovel (wood
handle) to gently poke out air pockets. Be careful not to break off the roots.
Finish backfilling, and gently firm soil. Make sure the soil is not mounded against
the trunk and that the beginning of the root flare is showing above ground. Make
a shallow saucer of soil (watering ring) at the outer edge of the planting hole.
8. Place two stakes on opposite sides of the tree in the direction of the prevailing
wind if possible. Pound stakes into the ground until they are firm. Use burlap or
plastic tree tie to secure tree.
9. Place mulch to a depth of 2”. Be sure that the mulch is not piled up against the
trunk of the tree. Re-TreeWNY does not provide mulch.
10. WATER THE TREE THOROUGHLY AFTER PLANTED. Re-TreeWNY does
have irrigation bags available and these are distributed in the spring. Additional
information will be provided when the bags are available.