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What Happens After You Transplant Trees?

By Roberta Tolan and Jim Klett Department of Horticulture, Colorado State University

When you transplant a tree, how much thought do you give to how it was grown? Does it make a difference whether it is a balled and burlapped tree, if it was grown in a plastic container or in a grow bag?

Perhaps not, but research underway at Colorado State University could change that. The Department of Horticulture is measuring and comparing the growth differences of B & B trees or those grown in a plastic container or grow bag. They want to know how the trees will respond under varying irrigation treatments. When they have completed their research, Colorado consumers will know more about what happens after trees are transplanted.

Although the study is not yet complete, there are some early observations:

  • During the first year, the balled and burlapped transplants showed the least new growth of the three production methods.

  • The production method is inconclusive as far as determining which trees showed the most new growth. Plastic container ash grew considerably more than the fabric container ash. Fabric container oak grew more than the plastic container oak. There is no measurable difference between the new growth of the plastic container and the fabric container pines.

  • Fabric container trees required more frequent irrigation than did the balled and burlapped trees.

  • Under high temperatures and drought conditions, fabric container trees showed stress earlier than did the B & B or plastic container trees. This was especially true with the ash, but not so obvious with the oaks or pines.

  • Because of the vigorous ash root system, the fabric bags were more difficult to remove from the ash than from the oaks or pines. Thus, more fine roots were removed at transplant time; this may account for the high stress observed with fabric container ash over the oaks and pines.

  • No fabric container trees were lost at transplant, while some B & B and plastic container trees were lost.

  • The fabric container trees were much easier to handle, as the root balls were much smaller and lighter than the B & B or plastic container tree rot balls.

  • The condition of the root ball is critical to successful transplanting any tree. Trees with damaged or dry root balls experience additional stress after transplant. A number of trees were lost in this experiment because of rootball problems and their data has been discarded from this study.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010