Can't find root flare on b&b'ed tree

adam211(8-Seattle)April 4, 2014

I recently got a Stewartia (from a major local nursery) and planted it. It's about 7+' tall and still pretty skinny/seems young.

Anyway, not being very familiar with balled and burlapped trees I took out the burlap, did some light scoring of the ball (now I hear that's a no-no), and planted it. I dug a little from the top (let's say 2-3") and found some hairy/thin little fibrous roots that just came out with the soil. I got afraid I was going to far and stopped, so it is planted at that height (but I just planted it).

After some research it looks like I truly should find the root flare. So, just now I cleared away a few more inches to see if I could find it and I still couldn't. The trunk gets wider, but I just hit more fibrous roots and I still haven't found any substantial roots. I'm afraid of going to far and damaging the root system. I've gone about 6" so far from the original soil height and at this rate I've nearly gone half the depth of the original ball. The soil around the trunk now is fairly compacted and there are increasing thin fibrous roots so I do have to use quite a bit of effort to dig more soil from the trunk with my fingers.

Is it possible there is no root flare?
Or do I just keep going?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

pix man !!!!

one might ask .. theory aside.. why you are fixing something that doesnt appear to be broken ...??? ... i know about all the stuff you read ... but i always find myself in this quandary ...

what does your seller have to say about it???

this is why.. we often suggest to forgo some of the instant gratification .. and buy smaller ....

i have no specific knowledge on this particular tree ...


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 12:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

I would wash all the soil off and plant it correctly. You don't ever see the root deformities unless you get rid of all that soil.

You get a hose and massage all that soil off and afterwards go into the roots and cut out any spriraling and any that are a "J" shape where the root heads back inside of the rootball. You cut the "J" where it will again head outside, or away from the rootball. You do that will all the roots so they are growing away and toward your soil.

You will find where the correct height/place that the tree should be planted at while doing so.

I see you're zone 8 and didn't notice that until I wrote the above. If the tree is already leafed out it's going to take a hit when you remove all the soil and re-plant. The leaves will droop and with time and with plenty of water so you never allow the soil to dry out, it will recuperate just fine.

Purchaing B&B trees is something I don't do anymore....... you never know what's inside and it's a big gamble. Instead I purchase potted and pull the tree out of the container at the nursery to see what I'm up against. Even with potted trees, you will need to go in and do surgery to the roots and massage as much soil away as necessary to unwind, re-direct, and look for 'imperfections.'

3-Year Root System After Being Pruned 3-years Ago Removing 'imperfections' - see how it all lays loose and the roots all head straight down.

The Other Side of The Root System. The "Root Flare" is where all those fibrous roots begin. There is no/are none large woody roots coming off the trunk - all are those fibrous roots.

Oops I uploaded the same picture twice. Re: Edit.

This post was edited by gardener365 on Fri, Apr 4, 14 at 13:08

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 1:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

@ken: I subscribe to the idea that to wait until something is broken in life to fix it is poor philosphy.

@Dax: Thanks for the advice. Yes, this is a bit of a gamble. I thought a 7' tree was still pretty young. You only learn by doing, though, and this is my first garden so I am learning. We'll see how it survives. The pictures are helpful.. that's probably what the root system on the 7' looks like. I also have a 5' Stewartia (not B&B) that has an obvious root flare, and I'm leaving alone.

What you suggest sounds very invasive, and dangerous, but I know it is also dangerous just to leave things alone, so I guess I'll plan on doing a bit more invasive surgery and cross my fingers. It'll be rainy the next few days so I'll probably have to wait until the soil isn't too wet. My location already isn't perfect for young Stewartia (more sun than optimal), but I've seen them grow in worse conditions here in Seattle so I'm hoping with lots of water and love they'll get established.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 1:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Rootwashing a B&B is a lot harder than rootwashing a container plant.

Dax - do you find that the stability of a bare-rooted B&B is iffy once it has been washed of soil? IOW do you have to stake it?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 1:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The root flare on a 7' Stewartia is not gonna be hugely obvious - the enlargement is subtle. I'd guess you have already uncovered it (and then some!) but a good photo would confirm. While I am a supporter of root washing (bare rooting B&B and container stock), I doubt the root system of a young Stewartia - even B&B - merits that sort of procedure. Typically they are a mass of the small feeder roots with few larger anchoring ones. Although girdling could be a problem with B&B, it is far less likely than with containerized stock and that's the primary reason for washing.

And just to confirm your assumptions, full sun in Seattle is not an issue for Sewartias as long as adequate irrigation is provided during our dry summers. These are easily my favorite tree and I planted a grove of them in my former garden :-)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 2:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

@ken: I subscribe to the idea that to wait until something is broken in life to fix it is poor philosophy.

===>>> but no one answered with specificity as to your S ... as compared to other trees ..... until GGal came along ... dax really doesnt say his pix are your tree type ...

if gal is correct.. then on some level.. you might be loving this thing toward death ...

i started a new post about rooting sticks ... follow along there.. lets see what kind of answers we get there ...

i still dont know if S's are rooted .... though you make no mention of a graft ... nor understock ..

did you follow up with your seller ????


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 2:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

I always try to get a reasonable determination of root flare depth by probing GENTLY around the trunk with a long, slender screwdriver in several places. That leaves the integrity of the ball intact.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 3:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Probing with a screwdriver didn't yield much. I gingerly probed around and only felt the trunk continuing to broaden for another couple inches, and heard root fibers tearing.

Really difficult to tell scale from these pictures.

Front (you can see a touch of widing to the bottom right, but it doesn't flare out, it just widens a bit).



This post was edited by adam211 on Fri, Apr 4, 14 at 15:54

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 3:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

On a tree that size a few small root fibers wouldn't matter, especially because they are probably adventitious roots forming from the tree's being planted too deeply. You should hit some major roots down there to give you a clue.

Sometimes nurseries plant "whips" too deeply, sometimes continuous field cultivation builds soil at the base of the tree causing the flare to be much too deep. If you really can't hit ANY major flare roots within three or four inches of the top of the ball I'd go with gardener365 and wash the root system to see what you've got, then plant at the proper depth.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 4:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

That looks about as good as any flare I've seen on a Stewartia of that age. I would not be concerned any further with that planting level.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 4:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for your responses. Seems to be some mixed thoughts here. I find it weird I haven't come across any major roots at all at the current planted level.

That's about 6" off the original level (I think that line halfway up the picture is the original balled soil level).

Since I had dug more soil from the base since I planted it sI still need to pop the tree up a bit since now it's flat or slightly depressed compared with surrounding soil.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 5:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

I wouldn't hesitate to remove the soil. I don't have to look back at a single tree I planted here and wonder what might/could have root problems... because I washed the soil off everything and went in and fixed everything.

All the great advice given here regarding trees planted too deeply and except myself and horster - for the hundreds of posts & everyone else is willing to skip the obvious. B&B is troublesome and we all know it. If it weren't for Adam's willingness to dig into the rootball to find signs of roots ~6" below and if he'd of just left it, that tree would have died.

John, if a root-system is really screwed up and say has a long taproot with minimal fine roots, I'll pot it into soil-less mix and put it in mostly to full shade until it grows fine roots and in a larger container than normal. It may take three years until I'm happy/ready to plant it to the landscape. If I think after I've washed all the soil off and pruned the roots that it is good enough to be planted to the landscape, then yes I do stake it but I don't stake any tree so it can not sway in the wind. I usually put two metal fence stakes on opposite sides and wrap a towel around the trunk of the tree and use green, plastic, horticultural tape to tie the tree off. And I dig an immense hole and plant above the soil line and because of all the backfill, the tree will stay in place due to the sheer magnitude of the weight of the soil.

That's all I have to say/comment upon.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 12:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm with ken_adrian on this one. You are making things needlessly complicated.

The reason some say you don't unwrap balled & burlapped trees is because there is a risk the roots will completely fall apart/off. Sounds like that didn't happen to no problem.

Washing the roots gives you all sorts of information a real expert can use. However, you also run the risk of damaging the roots if you don't know what you are doing.

Every time an amateur tries to transplant a tree he runs the risk of killing it. I'm inclined to say digging up the tree to wash the roots at this point has more of a chance of killing it then revealing problems you will be able to fix.

Not every tree has an easily recognizable root flare. That's a myth that has confused many a gardener. I've rarely planted a tree that had a recognizable root flare...and have planted a few bare root trees. (Now I just try to remember how deeply the tree was planted).

If you have dug down to the first roots and uncovered everything above, you should be good.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 12:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi Adam211,
I dug this S. pseudo-camellia today and set it alongside it's proud parent. If someone held a gun to my head and asked me to point out something called a root flare I'd be a gonner :)
All the stewartia species that I have dug reveal a fine and delicate root system, the roots are not coarse at all. These trees are a pleasure to dig and the rootball stays together beautifully. As with most field-grown trees this plant has never been near a pot so there are no concerns about the roots. If someone advises you to bareroot and wash a B&B stewartia I would tell you that their suggestion is worth exactly what you paid for it.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 10:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would like to add some thoughts:

1. The "truth" is not a democratic process- committees, rather than lone individuals, often get it wrong-- it's in our human nature to "get along"

2. Many b&b trees are indeed, origninally from a pot

3. Many trees that are sold ain't worth a spit in the first place, and are problematic from the get-go, either way you approach it

4. An amateur rarely becomes a pro without some practice which includes failures

5. Many people have a subconsious agenda, and are not self-aware enough to recongize it- human nature, again

5. Suggesting that someone should not "worry about something" is negligent and arrogant (particularly for certain other trees, that might become large enough to kill someone/cause property damage/be expensive to remove, when and if it fails from an aviodable mistake)

6. Timing is everything, now is not the best time to find out you have purchased a lemon of a tree

7. If a tree isn't ready to be planted, it shouldn't get planted

8. My bs detector is flashing red lights

9. I don't know anything about stewartias

  1. Have a nice day :)


This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Wed, May 7, 14 at 23:53

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 11:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the real key now that it is planted ... and a very large rootball ... is to perfect watering ...

i favor a slight depression on my sand.. so that i can lay down a puddle of water.. to insure deep watering.. before it runs away ...

i would probably.. put the hose on trickle ... and let it run for hours ... WHEN THE TREE NEEDS WATER ... i hesitate to say.. once a month.. so you dont think its some kind of schedule thing.. rather than inserting finger.. or digging small holes [3 to 6 inches or so] on the edge of the rootball .. to find out when the soil is drying... you can stop digging little holes.. when you understand how water moves thru your soil and drains away ....

its all complicated by how your native soil drains.. clay versus sand.. etc ... and also by the divergence between the soil in the BB and the native soil.. if any ...

you can not just shoot the thing with a pistol grip every now and then and announce it watered .... and insure insure that moisture [as compared to water] ... is down where the roots are.. up to a foot below the soil line ...

at this point.. i think you killed the ROOT FLARE ISSUE ... and can forget about it ... and move on the the PROPER WATERING ISSUE ...

i have no clue what you mean by propping it up ... but dont ... its time to let it be ...


    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 7:20AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Mackel in DFW makes a good point - many B&B trees were planted as container-grown liners. You'd HOPE the nursery made sure that the plant wasn't rootbound before field planting, but you never really know.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 10:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lots of opinions still here I see!

"Prop" was a poor choice of words on my end. I just meant I had dug too deep to place the tree in the hole so had to backfill, which I didn't intend.

Anyway, yes, I think I had scraped a bit more from the picture that I posted but that was long ago. I am maintaining water for the next couple years and thankfully we have gotten tons of rain. The hose trickling is a good idea. Too early to tell anything I suppose, but the tree looks quite healthy and, somehow, has an incredible amount of buds for such a small stewartia (at least from the ones I have seen), although perhaps the buds were forming before I planted.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 10:36AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
need advice for how to deal with Phytophthora
Unfortunately, my magnolia had this for quite a while...
Green Giant Thuja- Is it True how fast it grows???
Hi there, we recently moved and wanted a privacy hedge...
general all-purpose fertilizer recommendation?
Can anyone recommend a good, all-purpose granular (perferably...
Vulcan Magnolia
Just purchased a 4.5 inch "Vulcan"
Temporary Potting Small Trees - Central Florida
I have a small Magnolia tree, about 2 1/2' tall, and...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™