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Proper Planting for Trees and Shrubs

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Behnke Nurseries would like to offer it’s customers some guidelines on the proper planting procedures for both b&b (balled and burlapped) and container grown plants.

Nursery Plants: B&B vs. Container Grown

In general trees and shrubs are available either balled and burlapped or container grown. Behnke Nurseries sells most of its large trees and evergreens and some of its larger shrubs balled and burlapped. All of these plants have been grown directly in the ground at a nursery since they were just seedlings. When the plants are ready to be sold, they are individually dug and the root ball is wrapped in burlap and tied with twine or rope to hold the soil around the root system.

Large trees are also placed in wire baskets for extra support. This method of growing allows us to provide our customer with much larger plants at a lower cost than container grown plants of comparable size.

The majority of the plants that Behnkes sells are in containers. These plants have grown their entire life in a container, from seedlings to their final market size. Trees and shrubs may be transplanted many times, into successively larger plastic containers throughout their life at the nursery. Containers offer the grower a greater amount of control over the growing conditions of the plant, so we can provide our customer with high quality plants of consistent size and appearance. Container grown plants are also easier for the home gardener to transplant and establish in the home landscape.


Make sure your container grown plant is moist, or water it well several hours before you plant it. Turn the plant upside down, while supporting the root ball with your hand. Grasp the container and allow the plant to slide out of the pot. If the plant is too large cut the sides of the container and lift the plant out. Untangle matted roots, if necessary, by agitating with a 3-pronged cultivator. This action will expose healthy roots to the surrounding soil when planted.B&B plants need to be handled carefully to limit root disturbance.

Always pick the plant up by the root ball – never by the trunk or stem. Balled and burlapped plants should be placed directly in a prepared planting hole, burlap and all. The burlap covering the root ball will decompose naturally, but should be loosened from around the stem of the plant and rolled down into the planting hole and covered with soil. If the burlap is left exposed on the soil surface, it will act like a wick, letting the root ball dry out to quickly. Some burlap is synthetic, this will need to be removed completely, or it will inhibit root growth. Remove all twine or rope that may bind around the plant’s roots. If the plant is in a wire basket, cut it off with wire cutters and remove it, being careful not to disturb the plant roots.The next few steps are the same for both b&b and container grown plants.

Dig a hole three times as wide as the root ball. The hole must have slopped sides. The hole should be no deeper than the root ball. If the soil does not drain well, the hole should be dug to a depth that will allow the top of the root ball to sit slightly above ground level. The soil directly beneath the root ball should not be disturbed. Roughen the sides of the hole to prevent a glazing effect that could inhibit the ability of the roots to penetrate into the existing soil.

Save the soil you remove and mix it with equal amounts of topsoil and organic matter such as peat moss, compost, peat humus or fine bark mulch. Place the plant in the hole so that the root ball sits level with or slightly above ground level. Fill in around the root ball with the soil mix and pack firmly.Construct a shallow basin around the planting hole. This concentrates water to the root system and prevents runoff.

Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Do not place mulch against the stem or trunk of the plant. Water thoroughly, using a starter fertilizer. Watering will be the primary need of your new plant for the first few seasons. Water your newly planted trees and shrubs deeply about once a week for the first month or two. As it becomes established, waterings should become less frequent. Eventually, water will be needed only during long periods without rain.

By: Kevin O’ Toole

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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