jmcrae
Newly Registered
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue May 18, 2010 8:41 pm

planting arborvitae - metal frame around root bag

hello,

i had a landscaping company planted some arborvitae for me last year. this year they were all brown and generally looked bad. when i dug one up i found that the root bag was still in tact (which i've heard both sides - some say it needs to be removed and other say leaving it is fine). but what struck me was that the root bag was still held tight by a metal frame basket around the bag.

my question is this - was leaving that metal frame and/or the root bag a mistake by the landscaping company? shouldn't the roots have started to take hold at this point? i was able to rock the tree back and forth and pull it out with the root bag in tact like it was just planted, but it was actually in the ground for one year.

they also planted them in heavy shade (which is a mistake from what i have now read about arborvitae needing sun) but i wanted to know if the metal frame was a factor as well.

thanks...

MaineDesigner
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Posts: 439
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2006 4:17 pm
Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b

The issue of how to handle B&B plants is a bit controversial in the industry. IME the majority of landscaping companies do more-or-less what you are describing and usually it works out fine, at least in the short run. In my case I make sure as much of the cage and burlap is removed as possible, usually 70% - 100%*. Over the long term the cage may create problems with root development but this probably wouldn't show up for a decade. If the burlap was partially synthetic or treated with a extra strong dose of fungicide it is more likely to be part of the problem in the near term. I doubt however, that these rather dubious practices killed your tree unless the contractor left exposed burlap on the surface where it can act as a wick to pull moisture away from the root ball.

If the tree was healthy when it arrived (not a given, conifers can be almost dead before showing obvious signs), if the contractors didn't let the ball completely dry out before planting, if there was not a major soil discontinuity between the ball and site soil (e.g. a high clay content root ball being planted into a high sand content site), if there were not large air voids left when planting and if the Thuya was watered in correctly at planting it probably wasn't actions of the contractor that killed it. That is, however, a long list of ifs. Under watering or over watering by the homeowner are also not infrequent causes of plant decline or death. Anything anyone can offer at this remove is no more than a guess.

Arborvitae are over promoted as "shade tolerant". They are, to a limited degree, but when grown in anything more than light shade they tend to develop a very open habit which I find unattractive. At least in the northern tier states I wouldn't plant a Thuya in situations where it received less than five hours per day of full sun or dappled sun for eight hours or more.

*Some nominal experts recommend removing not only the cage and burlap but all of the soil from the root ball. I've never met anyone who actually uses this practice on a regular basis but I have no evidence that it doesn't work if done carefully. This would dramatically raise planting costs.

jmcrae
Newly Registered
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue May 18, 2010 8:41 pm

thanks for the reply...i guess i just don't understand how the roots are supposed to take hold when they are restricted by that metal cage.

MaineDesigner
Green Thumb
Posts: 439
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2006 4:17 pm
Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b

Thuyas don't really have a very impressive root system, they are not well adapted to xeric or dry-mesic conditions. Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you are calling the "cage". Most B&B stock is sold in a steel basket that has rather large openings. In the near term roots can fairly easily penetrate those openings even if the basket is not 100% removed. Years down the road may be another story but that is not germane to your situation. A smaller percentage of B&B stock is sold in a much finer, denser steel mesh. Is that what you have? There are also fabric bags and the RootbuilderII in-ground containers but these aren't metal.

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