Post mortem of roots from pot raised nursery tree

I don’t like buying them but when you find something out of the ordinary it is hard to resist the urge to give it a try.

This was a lapins cherry, hardy to zone 5 so my zone 4 was a leap of faith. When I potted it I tried my best to break down the root ball but 3 years later you can see how little that accomplished

The shape of the “large” pot is still discernible. A few roots did grow out of the cluster but considering it has two years of growth and the size of the tree, not really that many came out. This was going to be the third year in the ground.

Here’s a closer look at the big roots that grew all gnarly inside the pot. It looks like once it got bent a few times they just gave up on doing much growing.

Every tree I have seen dying after two years has been from mangled roots like this. While it t is easier for nurseries to sell large potted trees, for the long haul bareroot trees usually develop better roots.


This is a great post. I appreciate the pictures. Your post title does not give the post justice.


Agree, good thread and titles often leave a lot to be desired. But titles can be changed.

How about: I hate the roots on big potted nursery trees.

Maybe it’s still not too late to improve those roots. Maybe others have ideas on how to improve the roots when planting big potted nursery trees. Like cut out the circling roots.


I was taught to break up and spread out roots on anything potted. Fruit trees are hard though, the roots are almost cemented in place sometimes. Pruning back the ones that are wrapping back in is a good idea though.



This is a post all of us can relate to! No matter what climate we are in some things remain the same. Rootbound trees are the worst!


There are plants with thick root structures that are ill suited to be fatten on pots, others with a more mat-like root structure that can take that treatment better, provide it your slice the root ball with a knife before planting them (and I mean take a sharp knife and slice up and down pretty much to the trunk).

Is there a list of plants you should avoid to get potted? That could be helpful. Honestly for most trees you are better off bareroot.


Blueberry is the one plant I can think of with the mat like root system. Trees have the circling roots in a pot. Those need to be spread or cut when planted. Figs and trees in fabric bags have nice roots with little to no circling. Those should do well when planted out or up potted.


I have bought potted and not potted trees. To me tree survival comes down to how much the roots grow before winter. Earlier this year I was digging trying to put other plants in my planters. I noticed the ones that survived had roots all over the soil in the pot. The ones that died or have struggled the last 2 years have or had no root system. I had 2 Comice that were struggling with 1 standard that showed no green that came potted and 1 on OHXF 87. When I pulled the standard size Comice it revealed to be the roots had never left the direction of the pot and were still in that shape. The bare root Comice that was having a hard time never actually had roots grow on it. The same problem happened with my tri lite peach plum. The root system never grew from when I put it in 2 years ago. What was the issue where these roots did not grow I am not sure but they caused the tree to either not grow or die all together. Stark Bros sells their potted trees in what they call EZ start pots. These pots have transferred into some really successful trees despite being small. I tend to message the potted trees roots when I get them to loosen up roots. Doing this with my Stark Bros roots I have found many of them to thrive and grow. I have also had more success with plants coming in the spring than the fall for this reason. I think One Green World claims they do not warranty plants that come zone 6 and below in the fall because it does not give time for the roots to form.

I started root washing trees that I purchased potted. In some instances, you could see the potting medium of the start of the tree, and then a different medium it was planted into later, each retaining the shape of the pots. By root washing and getting all the potting medium removed you can see the root structure and prune away what will later cause problems.

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This is what I tend to do with root bound plants. Challenge is you need to stick with it because it is so time consuming. The potted plants I have not done this with that are root bound don’t do well. Root bound plants - 2 ways to loosen the roots plus what NEVER to do! - YouTube

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The problem is that most bushes can put up with rough handling like that but fully greened bigger trees can get mighty pissy. The roots need to be with good ground contact in order to support the green top.

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Always pull the container off small potted plants to check for bound roots. Do not buy the plant if it is root bound. Research has shown it is unlikely you can correct this problem.
The plant will not grow to maturity because the roots have girdled themselves.

A few years ago I made that same point on another forum. A significant portion of the participants felt I was an asshole for doing that. Those were not the exact words but it was certainly the sentiment.

The economic incentive to sell the biggest plant on the smallest pot is just too great. It is sad that beginners seem to be more intimidated by dormant bareroot plants that are in fact a whole lot easier for them to get growing right.


That has been a contention between my mother, grandmother and I for years. My grandmother and mom think a leafed out tree that is massive when you plant it is good. I always tell them it is bad and they don’t listen or understand.