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Container Grown Trees vs. B&B Trees

Posted by Paul VanOteghem

There are several considerations when choosing which type of tree to plant, either a container-grown or field-grown a.k.a. B&B (ball & burlap).  Prior to the advent of container-grown trees, B&B was the only option and still continues to be very popular.  Not that manyB&B trees years ago the availability of container-grown trees was very limited.  That is no longer true.  The popularity of this form has grown for several reasons.    Neither form is necessarily better than the other, just different.  The following is a discussion of various issues to be considered when selecting a shade or ornamental tree. 

  • Weight – Container trees are grown in soilless media comprised of components such as pine bark and peat moss.  This light weight can save in freight costs and also makes handling easier for the general consumer.  B&B are grown in native soils and are therefore rather heavy when compared to container trees.

  • Transplant shock – The entire root system of a container-grown plant is left intact.  If given proper growing conditions, the tree will acclimate very quickly and never miss a beat.  The root system of a B&B tree has a significant part of its root system severed at the time of harvest and in most cases will slow the growth of the tree for the first year or two.

  • Availability – Container-grown trees do have one significant advantage over field-grown.  Generally speaking, field-grown trees are primarily harvested during their dormant season.   Again this is related to the disturbance of the root system in B&B plant material.  As with everything there are exceptions, but it is fair to say that replenishment of field-grown trees on a sales lot during the growing season is much more difficult than with container-grown.  Producers of container-grown trees can ship this material all year long,  Therefore selection may prove to be greater in the container-grown category at some times of the year.container tree

  • Sizes – Again speaking in general terms, specimen or larger material is generally much more readily available in the B&B form.  There is much less container-grown material available in a 2” or larger trunk caliper than B&B.

  • Irrigation – Knowing when to water and how much to apply can be rather tricky.  In dry conditions the soils of B&B material will not dry out nearly as fast as the soilless media of the container-grown counterpart.  Conversely though, in wet conditions as in the case of exceptionally rainy periods; overly aggressive irrigation; or even due to poorly drained native soils, B&B trees can languish or even decline from “wet feet”.  In either case, great attention needs to be paid to conditions in the root zone. 

While the above is not an all-inclusive list of factors to be considered when making the decision of which type of tree to plant, I hope it has given you enough information to help make an informed decision.

Tags: Plants, Trees