nurseries using Rootmaker pots

joeschmoe80(6 (Ohio))December 17, 2012

A few questions about the "Rootmaker" and "Smart Pots" some nurseries are starting to use.

1. What year did nurseries start using them? They've existed for a long time, but nobody seemed to use them in the trade until rather recently, unless I missed it. It seems a fair number do now, but even just a few years ago, nobody did that I was aware of. Sooner's uses them to some degree and a few local places in Ohio even do now.

2. Are they REALLY that much better?? Do the plants establish faster in your experience? Are they less likely to have rootbound issues or girdling roots?

3. Is it just me, or does it seem that nurseries as a whole are starting to move away from bare root and B&B production to containerized production?

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there are a number of alternative growing systems, be it bags or specifically engineered pots, that are out there, but in terms of market share, represent a paltry share of the market. the grow bags are gaining faster than their container cousins, and most of the businesses that use these have one thing in common: they use this method as a means of distinguishing themselves from the competition.

meaning, there is one nursery in a market that utilizes them. just as a nursery may choose to carry more conifers, or hosta, or Malaysian pottery, a nursery may choose this as a means of separating themselves in a crowded marketplace. sometimes, your customers choose you. sometimes, you choose your customers.

as far as whether or not they truly work, that is part of the reason why the trade has been so slow to embrace them. there have been many products guaranteed to revolutionize how you work...but the only thing they are guaranteed to do is put your money in someone else's pocket. whitcomb especially is an example of this.

personally, I'm not sold that they are all they are cracked up to be. put them in the hands of a nursery struggling to survive on thin margins and give the grower the choice of bumping a product...and knowing the cost associated with that move...or selling it at a sale price and saving the cost of resizing...and given enough growers over enough time, I have problems buying that they will perform better over time.

my own experiments tell me that a regular container, properly moved through the sizes, performs just as well as the "improved". and that if neglected, present exactly the same problems over time. I will be the first to tell you my experiments are far from conclusive, and of insufficient supporting data for publication.

and most of what I have seen touting the specially shaped containers or the bags is sales material. one of the down sides of attending multiple trade shows, I guess. one the plus side, I never have to buy a pen.

as far as trends, bareroot has been on the way out for years. people want instant gratification, and it does not come from bareroot. they want a nursery to be completely responsible for a warranty policy, even if they leave the tree beside the garage in blazing sun for three weeks before planting, or in the trunk of a car for a week. and bareroot is expensive to sell. it's messy, requires continual cleaning, special care, and staff with more training/experience...all to sell a product to people who respond mostly to price only.

that's a long way of saying, if you buy on price alone, don't be surprised if knowledgable service becomes scarce.

b and b has a future, mostly for landscape trade.

but as far as retail is concerned, bareroot is history, b and b is limited, and container is here to stay. yeah, that's is simplifying things a bit, but you get the idea,

all I can say is, a couple good years for nurserymen would be good. let them clear the excess inventory, get back on regular schedules for planting and resizing...on the other hand, if you like your plants cheap, the past couple of seasons have had some real bargains. sure, there's been a flip side...but cheap always gets a bite, even if you really should know better.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2012 at 6:49PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

3. Is it just me, or does it seem that nurseries as a whole are starting to move away from bare root and B&B production to containerized production?

==>> those nurseries.. that can actually survive ... are not stocking the larger.. more expensive plants.. that normally come BB ... i figure its too big an investment if it doesnt sell ..

also.. many BB are actually throw into pots.. for shipping ... burlap and all ..


    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 12:11PM
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ken...psst...b&b are shipped that way...and thrown into containers for the retail lot...also because many states require b&b to be stored in a moisture retentive you can have long rows of mulch to clean up, which with trees of a certain size is how you do it, or you can have nice clean pots (relatively) to place in the sales lot.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 1:21PM
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Bare-root will always represent a great value IMO, but has one obvious drawback, a limited timeframe of usability, being suited only to planting during that tree's dormant period. As a retail thing, that's a tiny part of the market whereas for wholesale, it remains viable.

The various attempts to improve on regular pots-to mitigate root winding around the inside-are still too new to be fully accepted, or even as Strob points out, to have totally proven their superiority. What is good about seeing these things appear is that it signals the realization that potted material is full of problems.

B&B remains popular and will, at the very least, remain in play for sizable conifers. Wherever and whenever the end user is able to plan ahead sufficiently though, bare-root would be a better way to go both economically and horticulturally speaking. Most of what is purchased in a B&B plant is field soil. There simply are not more roots present in the typical rootball of such trees than are present in bare-root and potted stock.


    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 4:02PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

I've been growing trees as a hobby for years now.

Yes, they are that much better than regular containers.

It's all about marketing. Most customers don't know anything about plant roots system so they could care less whether they have nice root system or not.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 7:32AM
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RootMakers have been used by wholesale liner nurseries for almost 30 years. The industry (and thus consumers, landscapers, etc.) has been slow to learn for several reasons. First of all many nurseries have been growing for generations and are slow to change their ways (or admit errors). Secondly, RootMakers are tools, rather than just packaging like all other containers. The wholesale nursery shifts late to a cheap blow-molded container or works out a container return policy so they can continue to use, rather than have the container go to the end user. The soft-side RootTrapper is changing that.

Are they that much better? Yes. Look into fibrous root system research by Gilman, for example. The well run nursery, recognizes the difference because with timely shifts, trees in RootMaker will fill and thus pass all other growth methods. (Ex. with this system, what used to take 4 years to grow, may only take 2-3.) Very few landscapers, homeowners will ever look at the root system, before or after it has been planted. They just want results. Unfortunately, with the proliferation of smooth containers on the marker, trees may survive, but growth is relatively slow because they don't have a RootMaker grown tree to compare. The standard tree circling root system may let the tree live, but it is less likely to thrive. Very few homeowners follow up on demise of a tree. A more efficient root system means a healthier tree, better equipped to defend against pathogens, drought, weed-eater damage, etc.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:11AM
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Thanks RSD. I knew they'd been around for a while but did not realize it has been quite that long. FWIW, we're having 100 hybrid larch custom grown for us for planting out in spring 2014. Planting site is a golf course so itty-bitty plants were deemed not an option, even though I know they would have "taken" best that way. They were started from seedlings this past spring. I don't have the information at my disposal right now as to what system is being used, but it's one of the newer ones. Hope they make it to proper size-perhaps 4-5 ft.-by that time. Those of the exact same provenance/supplier which I've outplanted at my own land from seedling easily attain that and much more size within that timeframe, but so far, these haven't done much. It's only been the one growing season.


    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 6:38PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

While other air-root-pruning container were available previously, I believe the first RootMaker containers were put out in 1989, about twenty-three years ago.

There are reasons to believe many of these types of products have the potential to improve the final nursery product, BUT I think Strobiculate has a good point about them being (at least in some cases) oversold. They definitely aren't the only way to accomplish the goal of a good root system.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 8:58PM
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joeschmoe80(6 (Ohio))

So the consensus is, they DO work, but aren't the ONLY way to achieve the result? Makes sense.

Next question - why are almost all the nurseries that I find online using Rootmaker products in Texas??

Nothing against Texas, it just seems that for some reason, they've caught on in TX before anywhere else.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2012 at 10:33PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

FWIW Joe, IMHO is that they ARE helpful, but like most anything else can be abused to the point of uselessness. I don't think one exists, at least not yet, that overcomes all possible problems. And I got to give credit to Strob, as "proof" is hard to come by. There may very well be some future problem rear it's ugly head that e have not thought of just yet. At one time, growing in pots, and "pot-in-pot" techniques were thought to be superior. Obviously, they were/are abused and not such great options as they once appeared.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2012 at 12:51AM
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N.W. Ohio, I've been using rootmaker trays for years to propagate cuttings. I wouldn't use anything else.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2012 at 5:19PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Woody Warehouse Nursery in Lizton, Indiana, uses rootmakers and roottrappers. They specialize in growing oak, and can grow decent sized oaks in 2 years. All seed source is from right around the nursery - Many of the B&B landscapers around here start out with Woody Warehouse's transplants and liners.

They are working on their website right now, hopefully it'll be easier to order next year.

Here is a link that might be useful: Woody Warehouse

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 8:15AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

You almost have to divide this conversation between seedling/cuttings and more mature plants. Based on general perception and what I've heard, rootmaker has a huge impact on the success of seedlings and cuttings. Where I see issues begin is with the seedlings and have to get that right to begin with.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 11:09AM
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Here are a few pictures of cuttings that I have rooted using rootmaker trays.


Uploaded with

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    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 11:48AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Booya, time to get those in the ground or in a gallon pot. Good example of starting right.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 12:13PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

One thing that would make it harder for more northerly nurseries to use Rootmakers past the liner stage is winter hardiness - this might be why so many are located in Texas.

If a nursery wants to grow container stock to a larger size in zone 6/7 or colder, they have to do something to protect the exposed containerized root systems, since they are far more exposed to cold than in the ground. There are ways to do it, from mulching around the pots, to a greenhouse or digging into the ground, but all those are labor intensive. Mulching wohld probably be the best way to do it, if they had something to do with the mulch in spring (compost it perhaps)?

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 5:08PM
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Regarding why root enhancing pots have been so slow making it into the market place, as a grower it is hard to recover the added expense which is about 3 times the cost of a conventional plastic pot. As a grower, I know without a doubt RE pots work by producing healthier plants because of the multi-fold increase of root tips produced by the pruning effect either by air, constriction, or mechanically by severing. The improved health is like a plant on steroids which grows at maximum speed both in trunk caliper first, a real plus in tree production, then in secondary branching because of closer internodes. As a home owner the benefits are equally as valuable. Because of the increased quantity of root tips, the plants attach into the native soil incredible fast which means they become established quicker. This results in reduced shock and a higher drought tolerance again because the additional root tips which allow for greater water and nutrient absorb-ion.
Back to why all growers are not using them, first is pot cost, secondly added production costs in handling, limited reuse of bag type pots, appearance of pots at the retail level, and a lot of resistance to change. I have been in the nursery/ grower business for almost 30 years and learned about the benefits of root pruning back in college. The concept and benefits are proven, but until the market is willing to pay a higher price for a higher quality product growers are reluctant and growing in RE pots will be limited based on demand.
I have seen the pictures of 30 year old trees blown over in hurricanes with circling root systems caused from the original container that the tree was grown in. Some quality landscaping companies are requiring the trees they plant only be grown using RE methods. Sure any tree might be blown over in a hurricane, but when you see the problem, why not take advantage of planting a better product if available.
Regarding the question why are more growers in Tx growing in RE pots? One of the first growers in the country using Dr. Whitcombs Rootmaker Pots was in Texas. They were really responsible for showcasing the grower benefits of root pruning, because of the quality of the product they were producing.
I have also used RE pots in propagation, and although they dont increase the ability of a cutting to ininiate roots, they do increase the percentage of quality liners usable. Also planting a liner with circling roots into a RE pot does very little to increase the quality of the overall product. This is major problem, because in reality, very few nurseries, propagate all their own plants, which means liners are bought in for shifting up, and in most cases RE liners for every plant you grow are just not available.
So what to do? Buy RE plants if available, if there is any price differance, most likey it will be minimal, and there will allways be some added benefit regarding quality.
I hope this shed some light and answered some questions regarding RE pots.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 8:31PM
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joeschmoe80(6 (Ohio))

If landscapers (the professional designers, not two dudes with a truck and $59.99 software) start recommending/selecting them, they may catch on.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 1:53PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Personally, I think the grow bags yield better results than the hard plastic containers - Kind of like giant Jiffy pellets. The root grows through the side, and then withers; the root sends out additional roots behind the dried tip. It seems the success of these systems really depends on quick up-potting - They aren't a means of keeping a plant in the same container for years.

I'm experimenting with an oak in a Jiffy 50mm x 90mm forestry pellet - The difference is astounding! I planted a chestnut oak 2 years ago in the ground, and the Jiffy chestnut oak has already passed it up - In 1 month! (The Jiffy oak is under grow lights) I'll have to try some more come Spring.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 10:55PM
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