Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Don't Buy Trees From Big Box Stores

"Out of sight, out of mind" is a well worn saying, but very accurate.  This aphorism is especially true when it comes to purchasing and planting trees.  Landowners frequently purchase trees, usually at large nurseries or home improvement stores, based almost solely on the branches and leaves of the tree (the crown).  These trees are usually grown in containers - it is only when the tree is brought home that the root system of the tree is evaluated.  What is seen is frequently roots that completely pack the container, as shown below.

A young arbor vitae with a fairly dense root ball - this root system will prevent the tree from getting established for many years, and will make it slower growing after that.
Root bound trees are more likely to shift after planting (requiring staking), more likely to need excessive watering, more likely to be drought stressed (as all their roots are shallow), and more likely to die than trees with deeper roots.

A landowner's relationship with a tree will last many years and have a significant impact on yard work and property values - in essence it is a marriage between the land and the trees that will grace (or disfigure) it.  Because of this long term relationship, you should consider the whole tree, roots included.  Choosing a tree based on the above ground portion is like getting married on the first date.

What alternatives are there to root bound, store bought trees?  Aren't these the only trees that will grow fast enough to make planting them worthwhile?  Smaller, bare root trees (available online from many nurseries throughout the country) offer smaller, more affordable, but much better quality trees with good (downward pointing) root systems.  Because these trees have intact root systems, they are established much faster, grow much faster, and have better long term survival.

A recent invention has made planting and growing bare root trees easier.  The Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon, or Waterboxx for short, is a dew and rain harvesting device that doesn't rely on running water or electricity.

A schematic view of the Waterboxx, with the corner removed to show function.  Water in the form of dew and rain is collected by the lid, funneled down the siphon shown in red, stored in the green reservoir, and slowly released to the roots of the growing plant by the white wick.  
It is placed around a new, bare root tree (or even a tree grown from seed) at planting.  The tree's roots are kept moist and at a near constant temperature by the Waterboxx, preventing stress.  Water is slowly released straight down by a wick, forming a vertical water column.  This water column induces the roots of the tree to grow straight down to underground capillary water, protecting them from future drought.  This is explained in the video below.


Bare root trees tend to be only a few dollars for shade trees (our preferred source is arborday.org), or a little bit more expensive for fruit and nut trees (our preferred source is Stark Brothers).  The Waterboxx can be used up to 10 times so is also only a few dollars per tree, and saves a great deal of time and money on not watering your newly planted tree.  You can find out more about the Waterboxx at www.dewharvest.com.

We would love to see your questions or comments below.

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