Removing growing medium from fibrous root systems

I have over 40 trees of various sizes growing in root pouches. The root systems on these trees are very thick and fibrous, which is good, but they really hold the original growing medium. I’m used to planting mail order bare root trees. It’s easy to plant those in my native soil without having any voids between the roots. With the container trees, however, it seems I’m going to be putting this mass of roots and very light growing mix into much heavier native soil, creating the dreaded “bucket effect.” I’ve tried soaking the roots in a large tub and combing them with a pitch fork to get as much growing medium out as I can, but the roots are so dense I can only get about half of the growing mix out. Should I be worried about this? If so, does anyone have any tricks to cleaning these types of root systems up? Thanks


So long as you have some of the root ends free and into the native soil, you should be all set. The growing tips are mostly going to be pointed outwards, so they’ll want to grow into the soil. If you’re really concerned, I would comb the sides with an old eating fork. You can also slice the rootball a bit with a soil knife to encourage further root branching, but I think you’ve probably got plenty of growing tips.


have you tried blasting them with a hose? ive done that before and got most of the dirt out.


I soak for about 4 hours then do the dunking method until i can get the most out of the roots. I ‘quarantine’ all unknown dirt and soil that could have insects and larvae and diseases in that rooting system. I then soak another 4 hours in a clean bucket and dunk again. All unknown foreign dirt and wash water gets dumped away from everything else in my creek.

I do this for every plant that has roots that i did not grow myself. Unknown what all is in that soil.

If you grew it yourself in your own soil then skip the second step.


Your delima is one most of us face from time to time.

One, you are correct that a tree in a pot of organic mulch or other products that decompose may leave your ‘adult’ tree wobbly in it’s hole and subject to leaning or even blowing over…or holes for voles and mice to live.

I frequently mix actual soil into store-bought soil at potting time…reducing this effect and also reducing the waterings.

Planting tree in potting media…if that is the case of a purchased tree…mix some native soil and some store bought ‘topsoil’ in the larger planting hole. You get the root to transition to a ‘mix’ of the two soil types before they have to try and penetrate the hard soil after living in potting mixes!

Third point…I ordered 111 viburnum bushes last winter and had the vendor remove all the soil and ship bare root. (Lost just 2 plants and they being small and less vigorous looking to begin). So, removing dirt in dormancy and planting bare root is definitely successful…though it may sometimes slow up first year growth.


Well it’s not just that part, but the difficulty of getting the native soil down in between all the fibrous roots!


Adding enough water to make a soupy slurry in the planting hole can probably help in that concern?


I was able prepare some of the smaller root pouch grown trees from my garage today. I did a combination of soaking the roots, combing them with a 3 prong hand tool and blasting the roots with a garden hose. Worked pretty well. These smaller trees fit in my mini fridge for now. I’d love to get the bigger trees ready, but not sure how I’ll keep them dormant after I turn them into bare root trees. These are all trees I bench grafted last year. Here’s the ones I did today:
Jubileum Cherry on Mazzard
John Rivers Nectarine on Krymsk 1
Newhaven Peach on Lovell
Au Cherry Plum on M2624
Harbrite Peach on GF8-1
Raritan Rose Peach on GF8-1
Polly Peach on Lovell
Elberta Peach on Lovell
Zard Apricot on prunus americana
Kaga Plum on GF8-1
John Rivers Nectarine on GF8-1

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