Should I Remove Burlap or Wire Baskets When Transplanting a Tree?

You got your new tree safely home for planting, thanks to the burlap and wire protecting the roots. But now what do you do with it?

This is probably one of the most debated topics among tree researchers. Some say it is okay to leave both intact, while others claim you need to remove them to keep your tree healthy.

Burlap and wire baskets are used for the safe transportation of field-grown shrubs and trees.

Young trees are dug out with a portion of the root system and wrapped to protect the delicate roots during loading, shipping, and transportation from the nursery to your home.

A wire basket placed outside of the burlap allows the tree to be lifted safely by the root ball. Without it, the tree is handled by the strapping that is directly on the trunk, which could cause damage.

It is best to remove most, if not all, of the burlap and wire basket, as leaving them could strangle your tree.

Burlap and rope are often made with synthetic materials, and do not decompose quickly, if at all. Wire can take decades to rust and decompose.

Damage caused by leaving burlap or wire baskets intact can take up to a year to become evident. By then, it may be too late!

It is best to remove all of the burlap, as roots cannot move through it.

Once your tree is in its hole, cut around the twine at the top of the ball, then make a cut down the burlap, gently pulling it out as it comes loose. Remove as much burlap as possible. This decreases the chance of dehydration and girdling roots – roots that grow around the trunk and each other, making it hard to transport water and nutrients.

You can remove the entire wire basket, but you should at least remove the top 12”-18”.

Aside from some anchoring roots, the majority of the root system grows between 12” and 18” from the surface. By removing the top portion of the basket, you keep most of the roots responsible for nourishment out of harm’s way.

To remove the top portion of the basket, hand dig a slightly wider area at the top of your planting hole. Drop the tree in, with the basket, and trim off the top portion with wire cutters. Then, fill the hole with soil.

Attempting to remove the entire basket can result in damage to the root ball, so it may not be worth the risk. Removing the top portion alone should suffice. The goal is to remove as much burlap and wire as possible, while still leaving the root ball intact.

If your tree has a small root ball, or can’t stand on its own and starts to lean, you may need to give it some extra support by staking.

Place your hand on the trunk to see where it needs to be steadied; this is how tall your stakes should be. Place two metal or wooden stakes on opposite sides, and about 18” from the tree trunk.

Use canvas strapping to attach the tree to the straps, leaving enough slack to allow it to sway naturally. Avoid using rope or wire, which can damage the trunk.

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