Should you bare root before plantiung or puttingh tree in pot?

I just read this post: Washing Tree Roots Before Planting - Garden Myths
I grow my citrus and fig trees in pots and bare root the trees after I get them from a vendor and before putting them into 5:1:1 mix or gritty mix. I do this because the mix that the trees come in is usually different than the mix I put them in. The mixes that I use are fast draining while some of the mixes that the trees come in are not (they contain a lot of peat). I found that repotting the trees with this kind of mix is problematic because the water drains around the peat based mix in the root ball and does not penetrate into the roots.
I have been bare rooting my trees for years without problems.


Lots of good reasons to do this. It allows you to spot any issues with the roots and correct them before planting. Things like circling roots, crown gall, or root knot nematodes. I was once sold a fig plant that was infected with RKN. Had I planted that in ground I’d still be regretting it 10 yrs later.

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When it comes to potted plants I have always squished the roots out a bit. I have heard it gets them out of the memory of the pot. Some videos have stated if you don’t the roots may ball up and then die. Most of the plants I buy are already bare root though. I buy bare root in the fall because they are half the price and often times more established. For example only potted trees I have bought were my mandarin which there are not many options for and my gold saturn peach tree which the only seller I know of is Stark bros.

Reasons in your head that make sense or reasons from experience? Crown gall shouldn’t be an issue with potted trees bought from a nursery and it usually can be detected in a potted tree without removing all the soil- the galls will likely be on roots growing against the pot, or, true to their name, close to the crown. I don’t see why you’d need to completely wash the potting medium from fine roots to investigate this or girdling roots. Girdling roots tend to circle the edge of the rootball because it is the pot that is corralling them.

RKN is not an issue I have experience with as they aren’t common around here. Did you detect it on the fig because you washed off all the soil?

In almost 60 years of growing fruit trees with almost half of that being a full time job, I’ve never known a fruit tree to be killed from girdling roots- On big old apple trees, I’ve often seen tissue merge between circling roots and trunks, thereby avoiding the girdling affect by self-grafting. My own potted trees quickly send out escape roots into the surrounding soil which I end up digging up when I transplant them to add to the overall root structure of the trees when I plant them in their new spots. I run my hand around the roots and pull out circling roots on the outside of pots and stretch them out into the soil where they are being planted, sometimes using landscape staples or rocks to hold them in place as I fill the holes. But why would I wash the soil from all the fine roots in the process? I pull the roots outwards to speed establishment- not to save the trees.

Obviously, you never want to wash off the soil of trees that are in leaf, although I have successfully transplanted over 3" diameter conifers bare root- but didn’t wash off soil clinging to the roots.

So until there is more evidence contradicting it, in my conditions at least, where RKNs aren’t a factor, I recommend not completely washing the soil from the roots unless you have good reason to believe there is something harmful in the soil or perhaps if there is very bad rodent pressure- rodents love that well drained potting mix. .

I usually bare root only when potting a tree into a soil mix different from the one it was grown in. I have learned that a tree grown in a mostly peat mix and put into a rapid draining mix will not do well because, when watering, the water goes in the mix around the peat mix without entering the root ball. So that it looks like the tree is well watered when it is not.

Yet I do that with my nursery potted trees all the time when I take a tree growing in real soil in an in-soil grow-bag and place it into a pot with a wider diameter than the root and soil ball. The soil sits against much coarser potting medium between it and the pot.

This makes it possible to get adequate drainage even though the majority of the content of the pot is a silty soil that would never drain adequately in a pot by itself. The ability of the soil to hold onto more available water than the potting mix is an asset and not a detriment, and I don’t even have a drip irrigation system that would more easily assure that the real soil was kept moist. When rain isn’t adequate I use a hose and flood the pots a couple of times to water the trees. The trees can go much longer between rain without water because of the real soil in the pots.