Bare rooted vs container

Most of the plants we buy are container grown or put into a container with some potting compost for sale (having previously been grown in the ground). However, some plants (mainly deciduous woody perennials, but also some evergreens such as Buxus hedging) are available bare rooted during their dormant season. Here are the pros and cons of each type:

Bare rooted


  • Can be significantly cheaper, particularly if you’re purchasing large quantities (eg for hedging).
  • The absence of soil/potting compost makes them easier to handle.
  • The visible root makes it easy to check on the health and vigour of the plant, particularly deciduous plants where the top growth may not be very helpful as an indicator of health.


  • The plants need to be planted, or heeled in, immediately to prevent the roots drying out. If this isn’t possible then leave the plant in an unheated but frost free place (eg a shed) and keep the packing around the roots (often shredded newspaper) moist.
  • May take longer to establish as the transplation shock is greater for bare rooted plants (adding mycorrhizae fungi can help them establish).



  • Can be left in their containers for several weeks before planting out.
  • Are likely to establish more quickly than bare rooted plants as there is little root disturbance when planting out.


  • Likely to be more expensive than bare rooted plants, particularly if mail ordered (due to their higher weight).
  • The soil or potting compost around the roots may contain pests or diseases which you will then introduce to your garden upon planting.


A third option is to buy plants which are rootballed – having grown in the ground they are lifted, along with some of the soil, and wire and hessian wrapping placed around the rootball to retain it and some of the soil. This is often how larger trees are purchased as the wrapping does not need to be removed upon planting (the roots will grow through it as it rots) which makes the planting process of heavy items much easier. However, do check the neck of the ties (around the stem) to ensure that these aren’t so tight they may cut into the plant. If you’re concerned, cut back the wrapper around the stem to loosen it. Rootballs cause less root disturbance than bare rooted plants, so they should establish quicker, and they can be kept for several weeks without planting. However they do need to be kept covered and moist in the meantime.