Bareroot Nursery Stock Handling Guide

Planting depth is a hot topic among arborists these days, because many trees fail when planted too deep. A tree’s planting depth is critical to its growth and success. Once a tree has been planted and settled in, the main anchoring roots should only be 2 or 3 inches below the soil level. While it is better to plant a tree too high than too low, roots exposed to the sun will sun-scald.

Sweating is a process used to force bud break and activate growth in dormant nursery stock. The goal is to rehydrate plants by increasing temperature and humidity surrounding the dormant tree. A temperature of 50 to 60º F is optimum. We suggest sweating the following genera: Carpinus caroliniana, Crataegus, Celtis, Quercus, Nyssa and Styrax. Some suggest that this process also be used on Acer, Amelanchier, Betula, Fraxinus, Gleditsia, Liquidambar, Malus, Ostyra, Pyrus, Stewartia, Syringa and Tilia. If you have had trouble with any of these trees in the past, this simple step may save you headaches.

The process is fairly easy. It is best done out of direct sunlight so that excessive temperatures do not build up. Place a layer of moistened burlap, straw, or sawdust on the ground. Soak the tree roots in water. Shake off excess moisture and lay the trees down on the moist media. You may wish to spray the trees with a mold inhibiting fungicide to be on the safe side. Cover the trees with another layer of moist media. Finally, cover everything with a tarp or piece of plastic and seal the edges. Check the trees daily for swelling buds. You should see results in three to four days. Sweating should not be done until you can plant the tree out, and the threat of cold temperatures has passed. Tender young tissues will be damaged in sudden cold weather.

Roots are the main storehouse of energy during the dormant season. In the spring, most of the energy used by the tree, in the first six weeks of new growth, comes from this stored energy. We suggest that in preparing your bareroot tree for planting, you remove as little root as possible. Prune any broken roots back to solid wood, and make a fresh tip cut at the end of large roots. The more energy the tree has available, the sooner it will reestablish itself, and the faster it will grow to a sellable size.