Why bare root a tree?

Newbie question here. Other than for convenience of shipping, I don’t see anything positive about bare rooting a tree. It seems kind of invasive.

I think I’d much rather have them shipping with soil when I buy a plant.

Not sure what you meant “invasive” of shipping a bare root tree…

It is common practice to ship deciduous trees over dormant season as bare-root plants. The main reason is the shipping weight. It does not make sense to spend $20 to ship a $10 fruit/nut tree.

Also, a lot of the trees are field grown. The above $10 tree may have 2’ long roots. Same with grape plants. You have no other ways to ship trees with 2’ long roots.

With those strong plants and proper care, there is no harm for the trees to recover after shipping.

Look at this grape plant I sent to another member here. I have no other way to ship this plant other than bare root it.


Everyone has different opinions on that subject. I have bought lots of both and I now only buy potted plants. I will buy bare root if I can not find it in a pot. Just to many bare root purchases with no roots from almost every vendor. (no roots= cut off during harvesting)

milage varies here greatly. Selection is my main reason for ordering bare root. Most of the local nurseries for me don’t have much more than the big box stores, and the big box stores only carry common varieties that don’t thrive here (usually due to pest or disease). So if I want a pomegranate other than wonderful, i have to order it online, and there are very few that carry them potted. Anywhere with any kind of selection ships them bare root.
I do feel that planting a bare root tree robs you of 1 years’ worth of growth as the trees don’t seem to grow the first year (only establishing the roots that were cut off), where a potted plant tends to put on more growth.
buying locally from a nursery tends to also cost more, so i can get a similar bare root tree for as much as 1/2 the price of a potted tree. so lots of things to consider, cost, warranty, time. If the seller doesn’t have a warranty, don’t buy from them (bare root or potted).


It really depends on what you buy. If you buy the field grown plants like the one I shown above, then it is possible that you lose some part of your growing season. But if buy a plant that has been growing in pot the entire season, then you do not lose any time if the plant is shipped during dormant season.

I’ve sent some dormant plants in 4"x9" small tree pots in October. I call it semi bare root because I only remove the excess potting mix, but kept the core potting mix between the roots. It costed me $13 just to send a single plant in treepot. I know it would cost about $20 if I ship the entire 4"x9" treepot. Maybe $25 to ship a plant in one-gallon pot. 10-gallon tree would be out of the question. I won’t even attempt it.

I just do not see any harm done to send a container grown plant bare root in the early winter. The plant can still recover and get root established over winter and early spring.

What is your definition of invasive, I buy mostly barefoot trees.

i prefer bareroot tree i can see if the roots have any issues like nematode


Bareroot trees basically have disturbed roots.
A. they are more difficult to resoil/repot in a natural way. Also more work for you.
B. they may be root pruned which seems to me would delay growth.

@RedSun You are correct with the potted bare root. I have had great luck with those if you can find them. It’s field grown bare root where the gamble sets in.

None of the above two make bare root plants “invasive” by whatever ways we could think about.

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I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I’m saying bare rooting is invasive to the plant.

All I’m saying is they’re young plants, and to start disturbing their roots and cutting off and ripping them off doesn’t seem good. I don’t have proof of results. Additionally, it is more work trying to repot it and resoil it. The plant had already dug itself in. Now you have to try to get soil in those empty spaces and re-anchor it. And to get the roots properly spread out. You can’t just stick it in a pot and shove soil into it.

Trees that are kept in pots too long undergo negative consequences as well, primarily root circling. Unless you have to keep the tree in a pot for its entire life, there is no benefit in my opinion to buying a potted tree.


Yes but plants sold as bare root are young plants and don’t have that big of an issue. When you receive a young potted plant, you can slap the sides of the soil a bit to get the roots pointing out again, during up potting. That’s what I do with figs.

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Potted plant-
super heavy
Too big to ship
Too heavy to ship
Box gets turned upside down and the weight of the pot and compacted soil falls down on the plant, snapping and breaking the main stem.
Root bound- sometimes the roots can get so bound up it’s impossible to do anything with it.

Bare root-
Cheap shipping
High success rate
Uses your local soil
Roots grow and develop free from being root bound

You have to do what works for you. There is no 100% right answer for every situation. Most of the time the vendor or the nursery determines how they ship, and that determines what you get.


I have a commercial nursery that orders field grown, bare root trees by the bundle wholesale because I don’t have enough land to justify the extra year or two it would take me to get a $10 tree (wholesale). Every commercial grower of common tree fruits agrees that bare root trees are a much better option for starting an orchard than something that comes in a pot with soil- if only for economic reasons. If the potted trees established more quickly I suspect the industry would have long ago adapted to producing and shipping potted whips. Just an extra season of productivity would seem to justify the expense, especially if the nursery is nearby.

It is also becoming an increasingly popular contention in the literature of general horticulture that even larger trees are best transplanted bare root when possible (depending, in part, on the species). When roots are incased in a different soil than where they are transplanted, especially texturally, it creates certain problems related to the capillary movement of water from coarse to fine soils. If the soil the roots are in is coarse, like potting soil it dries out quickly because finer soil pulls moisture away, while rootball soil in BB trees (the industry standard) tends to be heavy, which can cause excess water to collect around the ball. Clay soils are often used for these trees because they create a denser root system and take longer to dry out while sitting in a nursery.

Large peach trees (2" caliber and up) are not even generally available in nurseries because they grow poorly in pots and suffer a lot when losing the amount of roots that occur when balling them up. Some of the bare root peaches and nects I sell include a root system well over 6’ in diameter- try growing that in a pot. Often they transplant without a hitch, but more often they take a year to fully recover transplanting, but it still tends to speed the time to harvest by a couple of years, which is well worth it for my mostly deep pocketed clients. They often have trouble keeping a whip alive.

Potted apple trees do fine and I often see healthy trees available at nurseries for a reasonable, though not great price. Pears suffer from transplanting more than anything I grow, so should also be worthwhile to buy potted. As has been mentioned, the primary problem is the selection. Every veteran member here has a clearer idea of what varieties do best in their region than most general nursery owners.

Incidentally, root systems are dynamic and feeder roots are forming and dying all the time. During drought, roots in dry soil lose all their feeder roots only to regenerate them when moisture returns. Trees dug from the ground lose most of their fine roots, even those growing partially in wire pots holding soil. Without feeder roots the suberin protected larger roots do nothing for the tree. When big roots are destroyed when dug up for transplant or even to fit in a box for shipping, trees are slowed down and you can lose a season in establishment, but such trees had much larger root systems than similar sized trees in pots to begin with.

Strive to buy your bare root trees from nurseries that sell plenty of root with their trees- all other things being equal. Sometimes when you want a special variety you have to take whatever you can find.


Bare root means not rootbound, among other things. You can see how healthy the roots are. Cheaper. Easier to move around.


If I am buying a small tree from a mail order nursery, I’d rather pay half price for shipping and get a second tree than pay to ship dirt across the country. That said it depends on the nursery and I certainly have paid for shipping dirt to obtain specific varieties, like KSU pawpaws unavailable as scions. I’ve planted thousands of bare root plants for work and can attest to the ease of planting with a dibble bar vs digging holes for potted plants as well. It’s probably 5x faster with similar results.


My total experience is only about 75 trees, but I much prefer bare root trees. Most of my bare root trees were cheaper and significantly larger than the potted trees. I’ve had 100% survival on bare root, but several deaths on potted trees transplanted into the ground. On a bare root tree, I can fan out the roots nicely when planting. I can also pick up and transport a dozen bare root trees at a time while potted plants are a problem to transport.

I worry about disease and pest transmission, so I’d rather not ship large amounts of soil or potting material cross country.