Bareroot planting

Above: Retired MD Dr. Henry Street of the Laporte PA Borough Shade Tree Commission illustrates how easy it is for volunteers to handle bare root trees, which typically contain 200% more roots (especially fine absorptive roots) than balled and burlapped trees of similar caliper.

Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute Director Nina Bassuk has been collecting data and observations from communities in New York and beyond about their bare root planting programs. (If you have observations from your town or city’s bare root program, please email them to [email protected]).

Bassuk suggested we highlight the efforts of Penn State Cooperative Extension Urban Forester Vincent Cotrone, who coordinates a community tree buying program that has resulted in more than 10,000 bare root trees being planted in Northeast PA. “Having a coordinator is key,” Bassuk says. “My hope is that we can create more community buying programs in New York.” (Learn about Onondaga County’s Bare Root Community-Tree Buy here, in a previous post about bare root).

A quick review of why bare root works:
*trees cost about 40% less than balled & burlapped
*reduced shipping costs (approximately $3.00/tree)
*reduced labor and installation costs compared to balled & burlapped trees
*can easily plant these trees with volunteers
*good survival rates because the trees have 200% more roots than B&B
*trees are planted at the proper depth when the roots are visible


Above: Communities pitch in to help unload over 400 bare root trees from a tractor trailer at strategic locations in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Lynn Conrad of the Rail Trail Council of NEPA and Board Certified Master Arborist Bernie Dincher helped unload bare root trees at the Kingston, PA Municipal Garage. Each community’s order is checked during the unloading process and some are held inside until the community picks up their trees.

Vinnie Cotrone has been coordinating bare root orders since 1998. It started with two communities going to pick up trees at Schichtel’s nursery near Buffalo, NY and has evolved into more than 20 communities buying a total of 800-900 trees a year, split between spring and fall. Now they are getting interest from greater Harrisburg and Allentown, in the southern parts of the state.

“I know Pennsylvania Horticultural Society also started buying from Schichtel’s about eight years ago and have a large bare root planting in Philadelphia neighborhoods,” Cotrone says. “We also have a few arborists that are ordering trees through the program.” All of the bare root trees are dipped in hydrogel and bagged at Schichtel’s before they are transported.

Cotrone coordinates the group order with help from Schichtel’s Sales Manager Jim Kisker. “We are not only saving money for communities on trees, but the group delivery and shipping has made it even more attractive.” Cotrone creates two drop sites (one west in Williamsport and one east in Kingston, PA) and communities must show up and help unload, then they load their vehicles and head back to plant or store the trees for up to a few days before planting.

He councils that the delivery stops for a group shipment should be coordinated thoughtfully. “We typically complete our delivery drops (unloading and reloading community trucks) by 1-2pm. When we delivered to Harrisburg one year (on the same load) the truck did not get there until 4pm and it is very hard to find people to unload at that time (or even have a DPW site open at that time).”

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Above: International Students from Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School helped plant over 20 trees one Saturday morning in Fall 2003. Many of the high school students had never planted trees before but had lots of fun and were proud that they made a difference in the community. Those Autumn Blaze Maples are now 30 feet tall, providing shade and fall color to this streetscape.

Cotrone says that his communities report an overall survival rate of 90+ percent. “We have planted some moderately difficult-to-transplant species and they are surviving, including ginkgo, hackberry, zelkova—even a few hornbeams. Our losses are quite low.” Cotrone has ingrained in the communities that plant bare root trees that they should only participate if they can plant the trees quickly and provide adequate water until establishment. He has newly participating communities watch the UHI video, Creating an Urban Forest: The Bare Root Planting Method. The booklet that accompanies the video can be seen here.

Currently, there isn’t a single source of diverse bare root trees from a nursery in PA, which is why the group buy is done from Schichtel’s. When taking into account the reduced cost of bare root trees and of shipping and planting them, bare root has saved PA communities over $1 million dollars in planting costs since the program started in 1998.

Here you can see a set of Criteria for Ordering Bare Root Trees that Cotrone created for interested communities. To contact him, email [email protected].


Each year the Northeast Pennsylvania Community Tree Association, with the assistance of the Extension Urban Forester, is able to provide the coordination of ordering bare root trees.  Planning for this begins in November and culminates with the spring deliveries and the unloading of the trees.  In order to continue to provide this service and the advantages of bare root trees – both cost savings and labor savings – we have created several criteria for each year’s bare root tree order.

-A minimum order of ten (10) trees.

-Orders are placed with the regional extension urban forester.

-For communities who have never planted bare root trees, “Creating an Urban Forest: The Bare Root Planting Method” a video from Cornell University that illustrates the bare root planting method and its many benefits should be viewed and used for training community volunteers. It can be viewed online at

-A community representative must be present at the delivery site to help unload bare root trees and load their order for transport to their community. Bare root trees should be planted as soon as possible (within a few days).

-All bare root tree orders are to be processed through the Extension Urban Forester in order to coordinate shipment and drop-off dates and locations. Please inform the extension urban forester of all bare root tree orders and changes made to your order with the nursery.

-Bare root tree harvesting is weather dependent. The Extension Urban Forester will be notified by the nursery as to the dates of harvesting and shipping. Delivery of trees can vary from the middle of April to early May for spring and early November for fall.

The Extension Urban Forester will determine the drop-off locations based upon number of communities ordering trees, number of trees ordered by community, the total number of trees ordered, and the number of trucks needed for delivery.

As with all new plantings, keep in mind the need to provide each tree with 10-20 gallons of water per week, rain or shine. The first year in the ground, the bare root trees will have sparse growth and smaller than normal leaves. In year two the trees will look very good (if planted properly and watered) since they actually have more roots than balled & burlapped trees.