Bert’s post yesterday inspired me to share one of my own timelines that I followed for 7 years. As many of you know, I am a proponent of bare-rooting container and B&B shrubs and trees. One of the benefits is that you can prune away malformed roots, but another is that you can ensure the roots come into contact with the native soil as soon as possible. It’s interesting to see what happens over time with the more typical “pop and drop” method.
I saw this rhododendron being planted in 2002. If you look closely, you can see that it was originally balled and burlapped – the burlap is up around the multiple trunks. Then the burlapped bag was put inside a contained filled with media. You can see that, too. So a hole was dug that exactly mirrored the plastic container and the whole works was lifted out and plugged in.
Visualize a giant jawbreaker with different colored layers. At the center, we have the roots surrounded by clay. This is encased in burlap and twine. Then there’s a layer of container media. And finally we have the native soil. Rather than making it easy for this rhododendron to get established, we now have several barriers for new roots to overcome.
The primary problem here is all of the different textures of stuff in this planting hole: clay, soilless media, and native soil. Water doesn’t move easily through different soil types (remember Jeff’s demo on drainage?) and if water doesn’t move, neither will the roots. And as you follow this time line, it becomes quite apparent that the roots never established into the native soil. Look in particular at the size of the leaves (they are markedly smaller as time goes on – a great indicator of chronic drought stress). The line in the masonry wall makes it easy to see changes in height – or lack thereof.
Installed in 2002 (year 0)
Early 2007 (Year 5)