Planting Trees In Pots – Don’t Make The Mistakes I Did

Planting trees in pots is easy once you know how to do it. But should you leave the pot on? The garden center may tell you to leave the fiber pot on when you plant. They may tell you to take off the lip and the bottom, but that’s generally all.

The same goes for burlap, and the rope and occasional wire basket that hold the root ball together. In fact, they might remove the guarantee if you take these things off.

The truth is, most tree experts who have spent a lot of time observing what happens over time when planting trees in pots, burlap or wire baskets agree you should take them right off, or at least remove the majority of them. This is a case where I agree with the experts.

Planting Trees In Pots – Plastic and Fiber

You probably know you should remove the big black plastic pot that some trees are sitting in, but what about the beige fiber pots?

Pots made of fiber are supposed to quickly break down in the soil, and they do if they are kept at the right moisture level and if you have the right microorganisms to break them down. If they dry out, or if the microbes aren’t there, they can take years to disintegrate. One of our organic gardening goals it to get those microbes back in the soil, but that can take time.

Planting trees in pots is not advisable because during the years they remain in the soil, they create a soil texture interface that does not let water pass easily, as does anything that is buried in the soil if it is a different texture than the soil. Sometimes this can lead to flooding in the pot and sometimes it can lead to insufficient water.

Roots might make their way through the pot, although sometimes they choose to circle around inside the pot, making an unstable, unhealthy tree that eventually dies.

Planting trees in pots is a no-no, even if the roots have grown into it. Do what it takes to get the pot off.

Find out before you buy if they will guarantee them when you remove the pot and burlap, and if they will take them back if the root system is not ready for prime time.

Feel free to post any questions or counter-arguments below.

20 Comments

  1. large plastic pots on December 4, 2010 at 7:27 am

    That’s the great article! I just pass ‘n read it, two thumbs up! 😉

  2. Bill Brikiatis on December 6, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Would you provide the same advice for planing seedlings in peat pots? Do peat pots also create a moisture barrier? I would expect so.

    • Phil on December 7, 2010 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Bill,Absolutely. Take them out of the peat pots before planting and if the “root ball” falls apart (not that this would be the end of the world), try using smaller pots next time.

  3. Large Plant Pots on May 21, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I’ll post the same information to my blog, thanks for ideas and great article. 

  4. large plastic pots on July 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I’m so love this blog, already bookmarked it! Thanks.

  5. Large Plant Pots on August 15, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Great! Thank for information, I’m looking for it for a long time,

  6. Tree Removals on October 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    As valuable as trees are we believe your safety and security has to come first. As a qualified arborist we are trained to recognise weakness due to many different causes – and can let you know if taking your tree down is the only option.

  7. Sujatha Merchant on January 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I have been growing trees in pots for many years. Fukuoka’s model works not just for agriculture. It works for trees in pots too 🙂

    • Phil on January 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      Oh yes, I agree, it works. I did it as a landscaper for 10 years, and it’s not like all the trees died or anything. But in certain soil conditions they will be severely limited, resulting in poor growth, sickness and sometimes death.

      • Dorsal on June 11, 2017 at 7:41 pm

        Totally agree!! I take the black plastic off too. I replace it with metal.to keep bunnies out.

  8. pamela on March 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    would it be okay to plant a seed in a pot and then transfer it later to the ground? if so, how long can it be grown in a pot before you need to transfer it to the ground?

    • Phil on March 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Pamela, sure you can do that with many plants. As for how long, it depends on the plant, the soil, the pot, etc. Basically, when it gets so that the roots are out to the edges of the pot, it’s getting to be time to move it to a bigger pot or into the garden. That could be 1 year or several years.

  9. pamela on March 10, 2012 at 6:21 am

    i mean plant a tree seed in a pot first.

    • Phil on March 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm

      Yes, you can definitely start a tree seed in a pot first. Some can be quite tricky, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

  10. jason marshall on May 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    When I plant a tree, I always remove everything I can before planting it (even the dirt and fertilizer bits from the nursery), and they do fairly well, even though I’m a scatterbrain and randomly neglect them.I think 3 times I’ve helped a friend plant a tree, and when it comes time to prepare the root ball they always tow the party line “Hey aren’t you supposed to leave the burlap in there?”  Since it’s their tree and their home, I fall prey to peer pressure.  None of those trees has done remotely well.  At one friend’s house we dug out a dead tree (that the previous owner planted) and found that after 5 years the burlap was still down there. Now next time I help a friend, I’ll stick to my guns.  If I’m volunteering for extra work, what’s the problem?

    • Phil on May 5, 2012 at 4:50 pm

      I just found some burlap totally intact on a 30 year old tree! It’s amazing how long it can stick around.

  11. Sam Staffy on March 15, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Go online and find out where you can plant a tree in your name for free. I went to myhollywoodgreenoffers.com and it took less than a minute. Save the planet people!

  12. MMoussa on October 31, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Hi, can I transplant a small pomegranate tree (2 feet tall) temporarily back into a pot after being in the soil for almost a month ? I need to use that location for another tree, then I’ll find another spot for it. Thanks.

    • Phil on November 4, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      Yes, any time a tree is transplanted, there is some shock to the tree and therefore risk of disease or death, but you can do it. It’s best to do it during the dormant season when the tree doesn’t have leaves.

  13. Cassandra Miller on January 31, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    Trees aren’t really advisable to be planted in pots unless it is a bonsai. But if you wanted it to grow naturally in it’s real size then have it planted on a fertile soil.Tree Service Pittsburgh

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