How Your Plants Are Shipped
Your plants will be shipped either in their container or bare root depending on the type of plant. Generally, bamboo plants are shipped in their container because they don't like root disturbance and bare root shipping would cause a lot of damage. Most other plants do just fine with bare root shipping because their roots are more flexible and less likely to break during transit. Small sized plants, usually in one and two gallon containers, can be shipped during the active growing season while larger plants are delayed until they are dormant in the fall and are shipped until spring.
Plants Shipped In Their ContainerPlants that are shipped in their containers have their container wrapped in plastic to keep the soil from falling away and are then strapped to the bottom of the box. This prevents the plants from moving around even if the boxes are dropped or turned upside down.
Plants Shipped Bare Root and Washed RootBare root and washed root are very similar but in the nursery trade typically bare root plants are trees which are grown in the field and dug up in the winter with no soil attached. These plants are typically cheaper due to lower growing costs and are popular for large projects where a large number of plants are needed. When the are dug they lose any roots that grew away from the main root ball and typically these plants will grow a little slower in their first year as they focus on producing new roots before returning to fast top growth. Despite the longer establishment period, bare root plants benefit from the root pruning and will produce a superior long-term root structure than washed root plants. Certain plant species and varieties that are prone to poor root system development are only available bare root for this reason. Bare root plants have high success rates but are not tolerant of planting directly into windy areas, especially with evergreen species as the remaining roots will not be sufficient to withstand drying winds. If you are planting in high-wind areas you should consider ordering washed root plants.
Washed root plants are grown in containers like one or two gallon pots in a standard nursery setting and can ship much earlier in the fall because we don't have to wait for deep winter dormancy before handling the plants. For shipping the plants are removed from their containers and the soil is gently washed off of the roots, preserving most of the small feeder roots. We make minor root pruning cuts to elimate clumps of circling roots from some plants but typically don't remove more than about 5-10% of the fine roots, compared to bare root plants which typically lose around 60-70% of the fine feeder roots. Washed root plants are much quicker to establish and are suitable for planting directly in windy locations but because of the higher growing costs and shipping weight will be more expensive than field grown bare root plants. Some plant species that are especially prone to root circling are not grown in containers but only in the field.
For most plant species we choose the growing method that has the highest success rate for that plant's root structure but some plants can be grown just as well either way so both forms can be listed for sale at once. Under the "availability" section for each plant variety any plants listed by container size (such as 1 gallon, 2 gallon, etc.) are washed root plants while plants listed by height (such as 20-30 inches tall) or any listing saying "field grown" are bare root plants. Woody and perennial plants are usually shipped by removing the plant from its container and washing the soil away. They are then bundled together and wrapped in wet paper and plastic to keep the roots moist but the tops dry to prevent rot.
Plants that grow from tubers, rhizomes, and bulbs like Dahlias, Grasses, and Peonies are often pruned back and sent padded in a bag full of sawdust. Typically these plants are available only for dormant shipping in late fall, winter, or early spring but a few species are available for summer shipping as well.
Can You Really Ship Washed Root Plants In Summer?People ask us this question a lot and yes, most plant varieties do just fine with washed roots during their growing season. This comes back to the big question of "What Is The Difference Between Planting and Transplanting?" Transplanting means digging up a plant and moving it to a new location, which cuts and damages a lot of roots. Planting means moving a plant from a container into a larger container or into the ground. Planting is fine all year long because you are not shocking the plant with severe root damage, but transplanting shocks the plants so should only be done when the plant is dormant.
When we wash the soil from small plants there is very little root damage so the plants are not shocked and will continue to grow like they were before. Therefore, small plants of most varieties can be shipped throughout the year. Larger plants have woodier and stiffer roots that are less flexible and more likely to sustain damage during transport so we like to ship larger plants when they are dormant. If roots are damaged while a plant is dormant it will have time to heal before the leaves emerge and start using a lot of water.
Remember, your plants are guaranteed to grow!If you have any problems please do not hesitate to contact us. You can read our full guarantee here.
And just while we are on the topic, here is a mini-rant about plant guarantees.
Do not order from nurseries that don't offer strong guarantees on their plants.
This is a rule I decided to follow years ago because of a few bad experiences. I order tons and tons of plants - thousands of plants every year - from mail order nurseries and so ensuring I don't get stuck with a bad batch of plants is really important because there is a lot of money tied up in it. There are really only about ten nurseries I order from on a regular basis, usually wholesale operations where orders are hundreds if not thousands of plants at a time. Occasionally, there were varieties I needed that were not available anywhere else except from nurseries that had no plant guarantees or else had obscure requriements (one nursery required you to keep this tiny tag from the shipping label, knowing that almost no one would be able to actually qualify for the guarantee). So a few times I broke my rule and ordered from nurseries that had no guarantee and regretted it almost every single time. The plants were usually packaged with almost no padding and in one order more than half of the plants had come loose in transport and snapped. Usually though, the real issue was not the shipping but just the plant quality - plants might be really lanky, poorly rooted, or just half the size you would expect for the price. A nursery that truly believes in its products should have no problem offering a good full-replacement guarantee because they should have nothing to worry about.
Read More: How To Unpack Your Plants When They Arrive