Which is better: large or small caliper trees?

If you had the choice, would you choose a large or small caliper bare root tree? I couldn’t find this addressed directly in a prior topic. Cummins Nursery has 5 different grades, ranging from roughly 5/16" up to what they call “feathered.” I believe I’ve read that a bare root “whip” will often transplant and get started more easily than a larger tree, but I’ve seen several comments around the forum where people seem to be happy when they receive large caliper trees.

At the moment I’ve mostly selected grade #3 and #4 trees, thinking they’ll acclimate more quickly to their new location, but now I’m second guessing my choices. If the cost difference is not an issue, am I better off ordering larger trees?

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I would say that for apples, pears, and jujube you should get the largest caliper and most branched that you can. For peaches, they grow so quickly that it doesn’t hurt (and helps if you want low branching) to get smaller ones (3/8").

Trees of Antiquity says: “As noted by University of California Scientists and other qualified professionals the most successful trees often have caliper from 1/2” to 5/8" and usually establish faster than smaller and larger planting stock."

I suspect that it may have something to do with the amount of roots that are sent with the trees.


imo large calipers are generally better, because the rootstoc is also thicker(buttress roots), so has more stored food supply

the only problem with large-caliper bare-roots is that when being shipped, the specimens are less likely to have fine roots/root hairs, as these are distally located and generally trimmed off to fit inside the box, and this could pose a problem if the buttress roots aren’t inclined to grow de novo roots quickly enough.


Larger caliper apples and pears from Cummins have done well for me. Planted 3 years ago. Bought a few smaller trees the last couple years. Those have not done as well but i provided less weed control.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is really helpful to me!

So it sounds like there might be a sweet spot, but mostly larger is better. For those who have ordered trees from Cummins in particular, are you happier with #1 grade trees over the other grades? Any problems with the roots of larger trees being cut back too much?

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Hey Ryan,

I have ordered 14 apple and 2 peach trees from Cummins over the last couple years. They have ranged from #1 (feathered) down to #4, which is a 7/16" whip. The three #4 grade trees were two apples and peaches each.

These two peaches have been a disappointment for me, in that they’ve only grown to 3ft and 4ft in two growing seasons. They did better this year after fertilizing them, whereas I didn’t fert any trees that were planted last year. Now it may be because the soil is poor and acidic, and that doesn’t help peaches. I tried to remedy that with fert and lime, to get the pH up.

Of the two 7/16" apple trees, one is a Grimes Golden in G16 rootstock, and it has grown very well in two years, it’s put on some nice side branches and height and has even thickened up a little. The other tree is a Golden Russet on G222, and it has been the opposite- not a lot of new branches, still skinny, and it has already lost its leaves this year while most of the others have not. So a mixed bag with the 7/16 trees.

I have several 9/16 and 11/16 trees, and I think they have done really well. Good limb structures, good height, and thickness.

This year I planted a #1 grade Suncrisp apple on G30 from Cummins. Since it’s a #1, it had several short branches on it, which I pruned a little. It has done very well IMO for a first year tree. Good height, branches and thickness. The other two were a 11/16" (#2) Zestar on G30, and Alkmene on G11. The Z has done OK, has put on some vertical height, but not a lot of branches, while the Alkie looks almost as good as the Suncrisp.

I planted two peach and two pears this year from other nurseries, and they are all 5/8-3/4" thick. One of the peaches was a feathered tree, and it has put out good growth from the small branches. The other three trees have done decent.

To end this novel, if I had a choice, I’d rather have a tree at least 1/2" thick, with or without feathers, over a 7/16" or thinner tree.

Regarding roots, yes, if a bigger (by bigger, do you just mean a thicker whip?) tree is shipped with not a lot of roots, it’ll have a harder time getting established in its new home. If it’s a whip, it may have to be headed back quite a bit, if its feathered, those branches would prob need to be pruned as well. This is done to balance out the above ground part of the tree with its roots.

Some folks on here, who have vastly more experience than me, might say don’t head it back or prune it after planting. So there’s other opinions about this.

OK, enough from me!


If you want to head your peach trees of low, I believe smaller caliper trees push limbs low better than larger caliper, that has been my experience


I asked Cummins this question, and they said to go for the middle size.

I am pretty anal about where my branching is, but at the same time my brain always tells me bigger will fruit faster. Larger trees 1" I’ve had die on me when I tried heading them back, and are more stressed when planting. A smaller tree branches very easily as the buds are all still viable. Definitely go for the middle or next size up - but stay away from either extreme. True for most things in life :nerd_face:


I think the larger size is best if you can plant now or early fall. I believe planting at this time will allow a few new roots to form before going dormant. This method might not work as well in different locations.

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Just my experience. I have only bought from Stark but their Supreme trees grow noticeably faster for me.

I do have my opinion about that though. I suspect that they are all started at the same time and the Supreme trees are just the more vigorous trees to begin with.

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