Gilman, E.F. and C. Harchick


Planting depth in containers affects root form and tree quality

Journal of Environmental Horticulture 26 (3): 129-134

After 40 months in air root pruning containers, Quercus virginiana ‘SDLN’ Cathedral Oak® live oak planted 3.8 cm (1.5 in) and 8.9 cm (3.5 in) deep from rooted cuttings had greater caliper than trees planted at 1.3 cm (0.5 in) below substrate surface. Trees in the 1.3 cm (0.5 in) deep treatment grew taller than all other trees except for those in the 3.8 cm (1.5 in) deep. Most (80%) trees were graded as culls according to root evaluations in the Florida Grades and Standards for Nursery Stock. This resulted mostly from roots circling and crossing the top of the root ball in the #3 and/or #15 container sizes. Trees planted 6.4 cm (2.5 in) deep in #3s, then 6.4 cm deep in #15s, and 6.4 cm deep in #45s [19 cm (7.5 in) total depth] had fewer, smaller diameter, and deeper primary roots than trees planted at all other depths. The presence of a trunk flare and surface roots decreased with increasing planting depth indicating that these could be used as an indicator of primary root depth. Cathedral Oak® demonstrated the capacity to generate new roots above the primary flare roots only when rooted cuttings were planted into #3 containers. Trees adjusted their root systems by generating a new set of roots along the buried stem up to the substrate surface. Roots did not grow from the buried portion of the stem when trees in #3 containers were planted 6.4 cm (2.5 in) deep into #15 containers. In other words 75% or more of the primary structural roots were deflected by either the #3 or #15 container wall, or both indicating that most primary roots that emerged from the trunk did so when the tree was in the # 3 or #15 container within 22 months of planting from rooted cuttings. Roots often grafted when crossed or laid against other roots.

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