Planting Balled and Burlapped Plants

Very large plants like evergreens, which do not go into a true dormancy, survive much better if they are dug with as much of the root system as possible still intact. You will find many plants in nurseries which are labeled as B&B or balled and burlapped.

The digging of a large amount of soil around the roots of a plant keeps these roots in good condition and ready to start new growth when replanted if weather conditions are proper. This practice extends the time of planting past the leafing-out time which generally signals the end of the bare-root planting season. With proper care, B&B shrubs and trees may be replanted throughout most of the year. However, the digging B&B plants is best done during the dormant season because the roots are least active and foliage and stem growth are at a minimum.

B&B shrubs and trees are still best planted during the dormant season. As with bare-root plants, the late fall, early winter, and early spring are the best times for setting B&B plants. Much better growth will occur during the first growing season if they are planted at a time that allows the roots to become well-established before the new growth starts.

Handle B&B plants carefully, especially when you take them from the nursery to the place in the garden. Here a few rules that should help:

  • Never grab the plant by the stem or top. The heavy ball will pull away from the roots, breaking many of the feeder roots. Always carry the plant by the ball.
  • Do not drop the ball.
  • Plant as soon after purchasing as possible.
  • If planting is not immediately possible, place the plant in a protected place in case of freezing temperatures. Never leave a plant in the hot sun. It it will be several days before planting, pull a mulch of pine-straw, peat moss, or ground bark around the ball and keep it damp.

The basic principles of planting B&B plants are almost the same as for bare-root plants:

  • Dig a hole larger and deeper than the ball.
  • Mix soil taken from the hole.
    • Use 1/3 peat moss or ground bark.
    • Mix with 2/3 soil from the hole.
    • Add a handful of cattle manure (dehydrated is much better than composted).
    • If it still feels tight and slick, add more humus and perlite to loosen it up.
    • If the pH of the soil needs to be corrected, add lime or aluminum sulfate to the mixture.
  • Look at the bottom of the hole. If the soil layers are particularly tight, sticky and damp, dig the hole a little deeper and place some fine gravel, sand, or chunks of bark in the bottom to allow drainage.


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  • Measure the ball of earth and place enough of the prepared soil in the bottom of the hole so that when the ball is placed in the hole, the top of the ball will be at or slightly above the surface of the surrounding soil. Do not plant too deeply.
  • Place the plant in the hole, turning it until it is positioned correctly and sitting straight.
  • Do not try to remove the burlap from the ball.
  • Begin filling the hole with the prepared soil. Tamp it tightly so that there are no air pockets in the soil being packed around the roots.
  • Water larger plants thoroughly when half the hole is filled.
  • Undo the ties that hold the base of the stem. Remove them and the burlap from around the stem and off the top of the ball. Cut the burlap with a knife and remove that which is on top of the ball rather than laying it back into the hole as some do. The treated burlap used today rots very slowly and may cause air pockets.
  • Continue filling the hole until it is full. Do not put soil on top of the ball or against the stem.
  • Ideally, the top of the ball should now be exposed and about 1/2 to 1 inch above the surrounding surface.
Planting balled and burlapped plants
  • Now make a collar of dirt around the outer edge of the hole to hold water.
  • Soak the newly planted shrub or tree. Place the hose nozzle at the stem and let the water run very slowly into the ball until the hole will not accept any more water and the cup within the collar begins to fill.
  • Mulch the newly planted shrub or tree to conserve moisture. Do not let the mulch touch the stem.
  • Keep the ball of earth around the roots moist by soaking especially during periods of dry weather.
  • Prune out any broken or damaged stems or twigs.
  • When the new growth starts, apply fertilizer in a band around the outer edge of the hole but inside the collar and on top of the mulch. Water thoroughly.





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