Excellent question and here’s my definitive answer; “It depends.” There are a lot of different kinds of so-called burlap being used to ball trees today and there’s no way for me to know what kind of burlap your tree has on it.
I often like to leave the burlap intact when planting trees because it is important to me that the root ball stays intact.
That helps keep the tree stable. If the tree rocks back and forth every time the wind blows it will have a very difficult time establishing new roots. Which brings us to this point?
Should I Stake My Tree?
Yes. Absolutely you should keep it from rocking back and forth. Most tree stakes should stay in place for about one year.
For a stake, you can use a 2 by 2 driven into the ground at an angle. Drive the stake into the ground into the direction of the prevailing wind.
You can also use 1/2″ Electrical Conduit also known as EMT (electromagnetic tubing). To fasten the tree to the stake you can use a tree tying material like this, duct tape, or a piece of cloth.
Now, about those different kinds of Burlap.
Regular, Natural Burlap.
I guess there really are only two kinds of burlap. The rest are imposters designed to look and act like burlap but made of synthetic materials.
Natural burlap is probably the best for the tree because it is biodegradable so it does not have to be removed at all.
Next, on the list is treated burlap. Treated burlap is just as it sounds. It’s natural burlap that has been treated with a fungicide to keep it from rotting as quickly.
Natural burlap is great for plants, but it does rot quickly and when plants sit in the nursery or on a sale lot for more than just a few weeks the bottom will come out of the ball as soon as the plant is moved and of course, that is not a good thing.
So growers use treated burlap. It will still decompose, but it does buy us a couple of months before that happens.
So I guess there really is no such thing as plastic burlap because it’s either burlap or plastic. However, in the industry, we call it plastic burlap so that’s what it’s going to be here.
Plastic burlap looks a little like burlap but is made of a plastic material that will never rot. It’s made of tiny plastic strips that are weaved together.
It will breathe, and the roots of plants will actually grow through it, so even if it’s not removed the plants seem to do just fine. Just make sure to loosen it around the top of the ball so it can’t girdle the tree as it grows larger.
Do I remove plastic burlap? Usually not, but I will take a knife and make a number of vertical slices in the plastic burlap to make sure the roots can find their way out of the ball.
I can hear you now, “Mike! You leave it on!” Yes, sometimes I do. Because . . . I know it’s not going to affect the tree. Here’s the deal. I’ve been at this a long time.
Not only have I landscaped over 500 homes I’ve been in about every landscaping situation you can imagine over the years and I’ve seen plants ripped out with a backhoe that was planted with plastic burlap left intact.
The plants were huge, and it was quite obvious that the roots found their way through the plastic burlap with ease.
Should you remove it? Yes. Wanna know why? Because you’ll sleep better.
But I need to clarify why I will sometimes leave plastic burlap on a tree. If I’m planting 50 trees in the parking lot of a shopping mall and I know that by not disturbing the root ball any more than I have to the tree has a better chance of survival, I’ll leave it on.
It’s a shopping mall parking lot. A concrete jungle! The plastic burlap will reside under the tree until the tree is removed if it ever is. Chances are it will be sooner or later. That’s what happens in parking lots.
Secondly, the tree is probably in a wire basket, which makes it almost impossible to remove the plastic burlap without removing the tree basket, and removing the wire basket is just not practical for a lot of different reasons.
Doing so is definitely not good for the tree and trying to remove a basket made of rusty wire isn’t very good for the person doing it.
In every business there’s a place between the ideal situation and the most practical situation. In your backyard you can be ideal. At work you have to be practical or they’ll replace you.
Poly Beige Burlap.
Now, this poly beige burlap is probably a trade name and it is an artificial burlap that looks like natural burlap.
It has a loose weave, absorbs water more easily than a plastic burlap but it is not biodegradable. Now many years ago I did a little experiment.
I was planting a Burning Bush hedge with probably 100 plants but we did 50 plants one week, then the customer wanted us to do another 50 plants.
The first 50 plants were balled with natural burlap and the second 50 were in poly beige, non biodegradable burlap.
We planted all of the shrubs the same way, with the burlap left on the balls. That was about 20 years ago and I drive by that hedge almost daily.
Both sides of the hedge look exactly the same and the plants grew wonderfully. It made no difference that 50 of the plants were in natural burlap and the other 50 were in a poly type of burlap.
How Do I know What Kind of Burlap My Tree Has?
Set it afire! Well not really, but if you take a corner of the burlap and apply a small flame to it with a match or lighter you’ll see that the natural burlap will burn, but the poly or plastic burlap will melt.
Cut the Strings and Let em Fly!
Often times balled trees are laced up with nursery twine to help hold the ball together and to keep the tree stable in the ball.
I do recommend that you at least cut the strings, especially those that are wrapped around the base of the tree.
Cut the strings, pull them away from the trunk of the tree, and just remove them or tuck them into the hole as you plant the tree.
Strings also come in a natural, biodegradable sisal twine and nylon, non-biodegradable. Both are used for tying up balled trees.
Watch Out for Hidden Strings!
Often times, when trees sit around the nursery or the sales lot too long the burlap rots and the trees, are actually re-burlapped.
Sometimes when this is done there are nylon strings around the original ball and they might be covered up with the second layer of burlap. This should never be done, but you know how it goes.
The boss tells the help what to do, but they missed the part where he said cut or remove the strings. Check around the base of the trees searching for hidden strings and make sure to cut them and pull them away from the stem of the tree.
No! Don’t! Please don’t Plant Me in the Swamp!
Listen up! Here’s the deal. Plants need water to live just like me and you. But that doesn’t mean that they love water or wet ground. The opposite is true.
They hate wet ground, they hate wet feet and they hate being planted too deep. If you do any one of those things to a tree it will get even with you by just up and dying.
The roots of your plants need to breath. They actually depend on oxygen being transferred through the soil to the root system. If you plant them too deep or in wet ground that can’t happen and they will die.
I found it! I found it!
A while back I told you that I Duston and did a video showing you how to dig and plant a tree and how to carry a tree using a piece of burlap as a sling. But I couldn’t find it on my own website.
I just found it and it contains great information about planting a tree and I remember being reprimanded because I don’t have one of those fussy sock things on the microphone of my camera and the road noise was bothersome.
And if I remember correctly we messed up the order of the video segments and because I am me, I left it that way purely for my own entertainment value. Watch the Movie. It’s Good Stuff, Road Noise and All.
Perfect! Do You Want Perfect Stuff from Me?
Listen. If you want perfect I’m not your guy. But I am prolific. You’ll get a lot of good information from me, just not always perfect. Speaking of perfect, I’ve got this friend who has a blog called Playing with Perfect.
Amy is not perfect, doesn’t try to be perfect, and I tell her that in many ways she is the modern day Lucille Ball. Stop by and tell her that Mike said she’s pretty cool and read her blog. It’s very entertaining.
Listen up, here’s the deal. I’ve got a nursery full of plants. We’ve been digging and potting like crazy. Do you know what I wish I had right now? More Plants! I need more plants and I will be buying thousands of them in the next few months.
Questions, comments, wanna tell me that I’m good lookin? Just kiddin.