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Removal of burlap from B & B trees WHY??????

When planting B &B trees I have come across the instructions in reputable aboriculture books, etc. which recommend removing at least the top half of burlap from the ball.  I can not find the reason WHY.  Yes, I assume that it helps the roots get started into the surrounding soil more quickly than if the burlap was left on---BUT--I can find no research (including the ISA of which I am a member) that tells WHY or IF this is important.   Does anyone have experience that would inform me?  Thank you.  JB

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  • Hi JB
    A couple things are pertinent here. One is the kind of soil that you have to work in. Very organic soils with adequate moisture (such as New England soils) will break down the burlap and it just becomes part of the soil. In other soil types the burlap acts as a barrier for roots to spread outward from the rootball, and in drier soils I have seen burlap be in good shape for 3 years or more!
    It is also important to eliminate the folds of burlap that happen when a rootball gets wrapped, anywhere around the b&b rootball. Burlap can act like an air pocket and really hinder root development.
    If the burlap is left on the upper part of the rootball, and is exposed to any air or mulch, the burlap may wick moisture away from the lower part of the rootball, hindering the development of new roots.
    The removal of the burlap should be done once the tree in in the oversized planting hole. If the rootball starts to fall apart, just push fill soil around to help keep it together.
    Hope this helps.
    Jack from Colorado
  • I heard Jim Flott present bare root planting any time of year at a green conference. His research involved washing the soil off of the tree roots of B&B and container grown plants. I have been using this method ever since and have had great success. There is less transplant shock, there is greater root contact and infiltration to the planting site and depending on soil type less need for staking. Planting this way exposes issues with girdling roots that can be corrected and allows the tree to be properly planted at the first true root. Trees grown in field or containers invariably end up being planted too deep.
    Wash the soil immediately before planting so that roots do not dry out. Place in the planting hole, which typically is shallower and wider than traditional planting, back fill about half way with the native soil. No amendments, please. Water in, after that perks through finish filling the planting hole and water that in well. It helps to use your shovel to kind of work the muck to make sure it settles around the roots. Attend to watering thoroughly until established. I have found that trees are established and on their own in less time.
    • The ANSI guidelines say to wash soil off of a couple plants (when a shipment has arrived) to get a sampling. How large of plants have you planted this way and what kinds? On bigger trees---2--3" caliper--I am cutting the top half of the basket and most burlap (I'm overseeing a job and not planting it myself). From research results that I recently read leaving part of the basket causes no problem (lower half), holds the root ball together, and diminishes the need for staking, which, from my experience appears accurate. Thank you.
      • Jim, I have planted trees and shrubs of various sizes, up to 2" caliper tree. I prefer container grown plants as the soil less mix and container are easier for me to handle with two people. Species: oaks, maples, river birch, zelkova, dogwood, redbud, tulip poplar, sycamore, bald cypress, coffee tree, willow. Burlap can wick moisture, restrict root growth as does a wire basket. Neither of these accessories occur in nature and only inhibit growth.
        • Very interesting. I can see the value in being able to get at the roots (girdling roots).
  • Dr. Ed Gilman from the University of Florida spoke to the Georgia Urban Forest Council about this topic on Feb. 18th. Here's a link to his web page: Dr. Gilman, Jim Urban, FASLA, and Brian Kempf and Tyson Carroll of the Urban Tree Foundation have developed a modern, up to date and peer reviewed set of details and specifications in AutoCAD and PDF formats for the green industry. Check it out! It's brand NEW information:
    • Thank you. I have a copy of the ANSI specs. I am trying to find research that supports the idea that burlap should be removed. I guess I will have to do my own.
  • Found this article published in the Journal of Arboriculture, 1997 by Dr. Michael Kuhns:
    • Jennifer, I could not access your given link. I love data, so if you can check the address, I would appreciate it.
      • That's the correct web address, but for some reason the entire address isn't linking. Try copying the address and pasting into your browser. The title of the article is "Penetration of Treated and Untreated Burlap by Roots of Balled-and-Burlapped Norway Maples."
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