Thursday, March 19, 2009

Planting a Balled and Burlapped Serviceberry Tree

To all of you who guessed Serviceberry-congrats! You all know the best kept secret amongst good gardeners. Not really sure why more serviceberries are not planted, but they are purported to be wonderful trees. We'll see since Tiger Gardens now has its very own serviceberry in the garden.
When I planned out my Patio Garden, I had all intentions of purchasing a real tree to go into this garden. What is a real tree? A real tree is a big, very big tree, with a very big root ball to match. Prior to going to Hillside Gardens I called the owner and asked him if he had any serviceberries. He was not sure as this year's inventory was just now trickling in. He told me that if he had any, they would have been left over from last year and that he would check his inventory and call me back. While I waited for his call I called several local Evansville nurseries. None had any serviceberries at the time, but they all told me I should check back soon. I was not in the mood to wait as this is a good time to plant balled and burlapped large trees-when they are dormant. I also had to contend with getting the tree back to Tennessee from Indiana. Now was the time.

The owner of Hillside got back to me. He told me he had 'Autumn Brilliance' and 'Snow Cloud' serviceberry cultivars in stock. I hopped into the truck and headed his way. When I arrived I found that he did indeed have these two cultivars in stock, but both were growing in a shrub form, that is they had multiple trunks and low limbs. This was not what I had in mind for my garden. Well, since this particular nursery is a big commercial nursery that not only sells plants, but also installs them, there was an extra bonus sitting at the tree farm that was left over from a commercial job. It was a single trunked, 2" caliper serviceberry, cultivar 'Trazam', also known as 'Tradition'.

I had never heard of 'Trazam' and was at a loss because I did not research 'Trazam'. I was not sure this would work for me. The nursery worker had no idea what it was either. He simply informed me that it was left over from a commercial job and was not a tree they normally carried. 'Trazam' was not listed in any of their nursery books, but bless their hearts, they let me use their Internet so I could Google 'Trazam'. I found out 'Trazam' would work for me in the Patio Garden, so I bought it. I am hoping it does well as there really is not all that information on the web about 'Trazam'. I'm getting off track though, back to planting balled and burlapped.

Do you see how big that root ball is in the back of Mr. Fix-it's truck? Since the tree is a 2" caliper, normally you have a root ball that equals 1 foot for every inch of caliper; therefore the rootball on my tree was 2 feet in diamter. A pretty big rootball. The really heavy part though was probably more the tree itself. This tree is a good 12'-14' tall and hung out the back of the truck by at least 8'. What a big tree!
I first dug the hole for the tree. It is recommended to dig the hole for servcieberries quite large because the roots like to spread out. Since my garden was already raised by about one foot off from the grade and was turned into a big garden, I felt the roots could spread out in the entire garden. I did not dig the hole quite as big as it is recommended to dig (5 times the size of the root ball, hence a 10 foot hole), but dug quite a hole nonetheless. There it is above, though it is hard to see it. When planting trees, generally speaking you should dig a hole two to three times the size of the rootball, and no deeper than the rootball. The vast majority of trees die because they are planted too deeply. Some folks recommend planting trees an inch or so above grade to allow for settling. This is good advice. Serviceberries also need good drainage so going high rather than low works to my favor. Another benefit of planting in raised beds such as the one I built.

Okay, the hole is dug, the tree is off the truck, now what do I do with the balled and burlapped tree? Well, balled and burlapped, also known as B & B, is quite literally a tree with a root mass that is in a the shape of a ball, or bowl, that is usually then wrapped with heavy wire, then surrounded with burlap, and all tied together with rope. Most all burlap now a days is treated to retard rot. This was the case with my tree because I made a point to ask the nursery man who applied the burlap to the rootball while I watched. He said it is important to have a good burlap and wire cage in order to ensure the rootball does not fall apart. This rootball was pretty darned tight, and I doubt that even if it was completely bare that there would have been any damage to the rootball.

I prefer to remove both the burlap and wire cage from any trees I plant. You of course remove the ropes. Removing the cage and burlap is not a normal procedure, but one that is worth the extra effort as I believe the roots have an easier time growing out and away from the initial rootball into the surrounding soil. Additionally you don't have to worry about girdled roots when the wire cage is gone. Getting off the burlap was not a big deal. A few ropes, tons of spikes and the burlap was removed, the wire cage was a bit more difficult. I was told this tree was in the nursery for about one year. As such, the roots had filled in the wire cage pretty tightly. I was unable to get the wire cage off by pulling it, so I resorted to wire cutters and cut it away from my tree. Now I was ready to plant!

Jimmy and I rolled the tree into its spot, making sure to site it the way I wanted it, then I backfilled the hole. I do not normally add conditioners to my planting hole, but feel organic matter is important. So compost is always added to all holes I dig and plant plants into. I have never lost a tree, shrubs yes, trees no. Such was the case with this serviceberry. I filled the hole halfway up with soil, applied water and stamped the soil down, then filled the rest of the hole. I wanted to be sure there were no air pockets that would dry out the roots. Once all was packed down, I applied a mulch of newspapers and leaf mold, and let Mother Nature do the rest. I hope my new serviceberry does well and will be sure to post on its progress as time wears on.

So that is how I plant balled and burlapped trees, how do you plant them? Any other tips for planting balled and burlapped trees? And does anyone have experience with serviceberries? Ever heard of Trazam?

in the garden....

Note to local readers: Rural King has 'Autumn Brilliance' multi-trunked serviceberries at their Fort Campbell Blvd store if you are interested in purchasing one for your garden.


  1. All the terms you mentioned here are very new to me, Tina. But I got the picture, planting a big tree is not an easy job. Digging a big hole isn't either. I'm glad you're done.

  2. Tina, well done. I applaud you in the hole you dug. What is the expression? $10 hole for a $1 plant? I too remove all wrap from a B & B --there is too much of a chance for girdling. Why spend the money for a nice sized tree and not unwrap the rootball so it has a chance to spread and grow? I didn't know that the Amelanchier canadensis had edible berries. It is very nice in the spring. Great tree!!

  3. Whew! I'm tired just listening to how hard it is to plant one of these large B&B trees. Good luck with it.

  4. Wow! Yoy've done a great job, digging for that tree. When I plant a tre I do it just the same way. I thingk that's the best way doing it. Talking about digging, reminds me that I have do move my Ginko Biloba soon... Have a nive day / gittan

  5. Good morning Tina, Serviceberries are wonderful, whether in tree or shrub form. We have the shrub form, although I don't know what cultivar it is - it's been growing here for decades, and thrives in our dry shade bed.

    I would plant a balled and burlapped tree or shrub in the same way you did. Although I know they're often planted without removing the burlap, I prefer to remove it. I think it does help prevent girdling and lets the tree get established more easily. I've also recently read that there's a synthetic burlap being used in recent years that doesn't break down as quickly as natural-fiber burlap, and is likely to cause girdling.

    Enjoy your beautiful serviceberry. I think you'll find it an easy-care, long-lived, beautiful addition to your garden. The birds will love the berries, and they're so pretty covered with blossoms every spring. They have beautiful fall color.

  6. Good Morning Tina.
    That was quite a feat for you to dig & plant such a large tree. It looks lovely there in that garden. Much luck with it.
    I've never set out a tree of that size. I'll be planting some dwarf trees soon. I hope it works as your adventure will help me.
    Have a nice day all.

  7. Tina .. this is spooky .. I have been researching Serviceberry the last few days myself .. I would love to plant it in the front between my neighbor's property and ours .. you have my thinking cap on for sure now ! Thanks !

  8. hope this tree does well for you.
    i had a balled and burlap christmas tree a few years ago and by the time christmas came it was pretty much a charlie brown christmas tree. the other trees i have had planted for me by landscapers. that is all changing though.

  9. Serviceberry is indeed a great plant. A friend planted one last year--it's lovely. Here in the north, serviceberry is one of the first shrubs to bloom and settlers used it as a way to know when the ground was no longer frozen, so they could bury people who had died over the winter (hence the service part of the name, for funeral service).

  10. I've never heard of 'Trazam'. My experience with serviceberries is that the don't fit in my car! It's a good tree for your patio garden. I can't wait to see it flower and fruit!

  11. Tina,

    Oh gosh, I was right there with you in planting that tree! We've had our experiences with B&B big trees, too. There were 4 of us working on a few of ours because the root ball was so heavy and the tree so tall.

    I love Serviceberry and I look forward to seeing your wonderful tree flourish!


  12. I've never heard of serviceberry. I hope it does well and we get to see more of this tree. Interesting post!

  13. I added an amelanchier about 12 years ago. I'm not sure which species it is. I chose the multi trunked variety and it does take up a lot of room and is difficult to mow around. It was very slow getting established, it seemed not to grow at all for the first 4 or 5 years then it took off. About 15 feet tall now almost as wide.

    They are very popular here, in fact every commercial planting has a few (including McDonalds;)

    Good luck with yours. I think you will be happy with the single trunk. The birds love the fruit, its very sweet.

  14. I was going to give you the tip to water halfway through filling in, but I see you did that. The only tree I've planted lately is an apple tree in our school garden, but it was bare root. I was very happy to see that it's getting leaves now! thannks for introducing me to Serviceberry!

  15. Tina,

    I recall my first experience with serviceberry. We were in the wilderness in Monongahela National Forest at Dolly Sods and you could tell the serviceberry trees by the tops, the bears had broken off the tops to get to the berries!

  16. 山男(Yamaotoko)March 19, 2009 at 7:55 AM

    \(o_0)/ ...guess I was wrong! Never experienced serviceberry. It sounds like the fruit of the tree is wonderful. Tina, do you have deer nearby to where you are, cause that sounds like a deer magnet.

  17. Tina, I was going to leave a comment on yesterday's post since I just read it, but I peeked at the answer here, so that wasn't quite fair:) Thank you for this excellent tutorial on planting trees! As always, you have been a very busy gardener. I've heard of serviceberries before, but I don't think I've ever seen one up close. Yours is quite a nice size and should provide you with enjoyment this year.

    Your patio garden yesterday looks like a new bed I've just made--covered in newspapers and leaves. My grandkids were curious why Grandma was putting out newspapers in the yard:) By the way, how do you keep your papers down without them blowing away?

  18. The Saint and I have never planted a B&B before. You did a great job on explaining the process in the event we shall plant one some day. With all the trees surrounding us, I doubt we will be planting one as long as we live here. lol. Cant wait to see the Serviceberry growing in your garden...

  19. Tina, you are one of the busiest gardeners! From all I have read about tree planting,sounds like you did a great job. Hope it works well for you.

    What were you doing in Evansville?? I have family very close to there and was born and raised very close to that town. :)

  20. Good morning all!

    Blossom, Big job for sure.

    Janet, Yes! Delicious too! Like a mild blueberry and softer.

    Dawn, Thanks! No guarantee so I hope it lives!

    Gittan, I hope the biloba is not a too big. I love those trees! They are splendid. Good luck moving it.

    Linda, That is indeed good news to me. I am worried it won't get enough sun or shade, but hope it is adaptable. Sounds like it is.

    Lola, It was a job! Good luck with yours.

    Joy, that is the beauty of blogging-we find out things on our minds are working elsewhere too. Happens all the time. Same sheet of music for gardeners.

    Marmee, They can surely dry out quickly when B & B'd. Especially at Christmas time. That's too bad.

    Monica, That is very interesting about the early settlers. Make me love them even more.

    Dave, It is great she is giving you such a big one! Just drive that truck on up there. Looking forward to seeing you site it.

    Cameron, You know they are heavy! Yes indeed! It is hard to believe just how heavy too until you try to plant one.

    Dot, Thanks! These should grow well in your area I think. Nice natives.

    Marnie, I'll hang tough if mine doesn't take off then. I just hope it lives! I can see the hose coming out this summer. I'd love to see pics of yours when it blooms this year.

    JGH, Trees and plants always amaze me when they start anew in the spring. Even bareroot ones we think might be dead.

    Randy, I can surely see this. The berries are so good! No bears here though-sure am glad!

    Yamaotoko, It's okay! Not so many are familiar with these serviceberries. I have enjoyed the pics of your weekend. So glad it was great!

    Rose, Hi there! I hold the newspapers and leaves down by applying a light layer of hay or leaf mold on top of the leaves. It works well. This area is especially windy too. Sometimes the papers still blow away, I just go gather them up and do it all again:( But a heavy layer of mulch or sometimes even clods of soil on top of the newspapers works great. Grandkids should be helping grandma. Good fun for them.

    Skeeter, You and the Saint could probably make a mint selling all your trees. Nope, can't see B & B for you. Big job!

    Beckie, What is the saying? The hurrider I go, the behinder I get? Busy but not making headway:( Evansville is two hours from us. A favorite shopping spot for me, plus hubby and I own a little house in the big city there. Big being the word as compared to Clarksville. I love the German influence there and all the folks. Much more so than here in Tennessee. Not sure why, I just do. Probably the German influence and also because I am fairly used to big cities. If you ever go down that way, let me know and maybe we can meet up somewhere for shopping:)

  21. I have never heard of this type of tree..but Tina, is your back killing you?? That's one big tree for you to plant. Hope it does well. Can't wait to see it later in the year!

  22. I bet you are so happy to get the tree in so you can enjoy watching it grow now. We planted our first B &B this year, the magnolia. It's deceiving how heavy they are, and ours was half the size of yours! We also removed all the burlap, no wire cage on ours though. Can't wait to see yours all covered in leaves!

  23. I have never planted a tree that big Tina! I guess because it would be difficult to do alone. Looks like you did a first class job (like with everything else you do).

  24. WOW!!!! That was a big tree to plant. Hope it does well. It does sound like a great tree. Any tree that gives the birds some food is good. Great job.

  25. Hi Tina, A great find Tina and you will enjoy the fruits of your labor, if you get out there before the birds do! I love Serviceberries...they are delightful trees. I chose one with multi-stems; it was going into the patio bed and I didn't need to mow under it. Now, if Dave can get it home he can fight with the birds over who gets the fruit! it has sweet fall color...


  26. I just read a book, 'The Informed Gardener' by Linda Chalker-Scott, that challenged some of my ideas about tree planting. She recommends pulling off the wire/burlap and then HOSING OFF the rootball to remove ALL the soil, then planting the bareroot tree after performing corrective root pruning. What?! She says that's the only way to make sure there aren't any circling roots that will one day kill the tree. She teaches at UW (Seattle), so it's a mild climate, I wonder how well trees would do with that treatment in harsher climates. Anyway, she would definitely approve that you removed all the burlap and wire, didn't plant it too deep, and mulched over the top. And now I'm nervous about all the potted trees I planted last fall - at the time I was nervous that I was too aggressive at cutting the circling roots, but now I'm worried that I didn't cut enough. Only a decade or few will tell!
    And thanks for your encouraging comment on my blog this morning - VW

  27. Tina,
    That is quite an accomplishment. It will be a great addition to your garden.

  28. I agree with you about removing the burlap & wire cage. Last time I planted a B&B tree, we had a heck of a time cutting through the wire. A couple of years later I discovered that I should have cleared the soil off of the top of the root ball to expose the root flare. My poor tree ended up planted too deeply, so I had to excavate around it. Lesson learned: don't trust in the top of the root ball as a measure of how deeply to plant the tree.
    I hope you enjoy your Serviceberry. I don't have one, but I enjoy the one next door, especially in the fall when it turns orange & red.

  29. Thanks all!

    Linda, not too much. Rolling it helped. Yeah for no heavy lifting.

    Catherine, They are really hard to plant! But worth it.

    Thanks Kathleen. Not sure about first class each time, but you gotta give me an A for effort.

    Mom, It is a nice tree. I think it will grow up there. Keep your eye open. I also think your J. maple should be fine. So glad it has buds!

    Gail, I'll be there each day ready to get a few berries. Yes, Dave will need a truck. What a nice gift you gave to him for his garden.

    VW, I am a big believer in fixing those roots to get them out into the soil. I always chop mine with a shovel. Not sure about planting a B & B bareroot though. When you do this you would probably destroy all feeder roots. Severe trauma and it's not like the tree isn't get enough already. I would not worry on your trees. You cut them, they should be fine. I haven't lost a tree yet and that is how I do it. Chop and pull and spread out. Hence a big hole. A decade for us all for sure!:)

    Donna, I sure hope so after all that work. Thanks.

    MMD, Yes, I should've mentioned the root flare. A big deal when planting. Oftentimes folks plant so deep. I am glad your tree made it, even with the excavations. Trees are so perfect.

    Garden club tonight. ttyl

  30. What a job! Congrats on the new Serviceberry to your garden, I'm sure it will make a wonderful addition. Can't wait to see how it does. You are superwoman Tina! :)

  31. Can't wait to see what this tree looks like. I've never heard of a service berry.

    Another great tutorial Tina. I'm starting to think taht you might have much success in writing a gardner's how-to book :)


  32. I am so glad you found your tree(-: I have never heard of service berry before. I will have to read up on them(-: