Like Linda, I believe that we don’t plant enough bare-root trees. Trees that are harvested and sold bare root tend to establish better and recover faster from transplant shock than trees sold in containers or as B&B (balled and burlapped) stock. But, in general, trees that are purchased in as bare-root stock are smaller than the other two styles, with B&B generally being the production method which yields the largest trees.
I disagree with Linda that, as a general rule, B&B stock should have its roots washed off prior to transplanting — I’ve done it and I’ve lost trees. Most of the B&B trees that I know of where root washing has been successful have been small, relatively easily transplanted stock. Once we have a few nice, big, long term studies that shows that B&B trees with their roots washed perform comparably to, or better than, normal B&B trees I’ll start to believe. (I will note that, as a rule, it looks like B&B stock is dug and cared for much better here in Minnesota than Washington!)
I’m not going to go into the nuances of the arguments here — we’ve done it before if you want to check the archives. But what I am going to point out is that a new study in Oregon has shown that bigger trees might help to deter crime. Yet another reason for the people of this country to demand larger stock.
Despite what all of the research shows (that it’s better to plant smaller trees — preferably bare-root) people want big trees — they want an instant landscape. They want it because to them it looks nice — and now its a way to protect your family too.
Historically this big stock comes B&B and is very expensive, cumbersome, and not the easiest things to successfully plant. We need a new, cheaper way to grow large stock. A number of researchers are working on different methods to produce large stock (special containers, bare root from a gravel bed) but nothing has worked out perfectly yet. It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this shakes out in the future — especially with the loss of ash trees in the Midwest.