Natural burlap will decompose in the soil.

Do You Leave on the Wire Mesh When You Plant a Tree?

by Robert W. Lewis

Planting new trees and shrubs is one of the great joys of gardening. It gives you the chance to make your own mark on the landscape and turn it into what you've always imagined. Trees and shrubs are often available at garden centers with balled-and-burlapped root balls. The wire basket that sometimes surrounds the root ball will help you safely handle the plant.

Plant Containers

Balled-and-burlapped trees start as saplings planted in fields. Once they reach a marketable size, they are dug up and wrapped in burlap to keep the soil on the roots. Nurseries place large balled-and-burlapped root balls in wire baskets to better support the heavy loads and to protect them during commercial transport and handling by the gardener.


Balled-and-burlapped trees have had some of their roots cut off during digging, so prepare a planting hole that encourages healthy root development. Dig a hole about 1-1/2 times as wide as the top of the root ball, placing the excavated soil on a tarp for easy cleanup. Dig the hole only as deep as the root ball itself. Amend the soil, as needed. To make moving a heavy tree easier, place the root ball on a plastic tarp and drag it to its hole.

Wire Basket

Once you put the root ball in the hole, the wire basket is no longer needed. Experts disagree over whether the wire basket harms the plant's roots. The risk of removing a basket entirely, however, is that you could knock the soil off the roots when handling the bare root ball. A reasonable compromise is to use heavy-duty wire cutters to remove the top half of the basket.

Burlap Wrapping

Once you remove the top of the basket, cut away the twine holding the burlap to the trunk. Cut the top of the burlap away or tuck it into the hole before backfilling. It will eventually disintegrate. Synthetic twine and burlap must be removed entirely. If you can't get synthetic burlap out of the bottom of the basket, tilt the rootball and use a utility knife to cut a few X-shaped holes.

Finishing Touches

Straighten the tree and backfill the hole with the improved soil. Halfway through, use several gallons of water to settle the soil and remove air pockets. Water again when the hole is filled. A few inches of mulch, such as shredded bark, protects the roots from sun and drying winds. Pull the mulch a few inches away from the trunk. Unless your site is subject to very high winds, there is no need to stake the tree.

About the Author

Robert Lewis has been writing do-it-yourself and garden-related articles since 2000. He holds a B.A. in history from the University of Maryland and has training experience in finance, garden center retailing and teaching English as a second language. Lewis is an antiques dealer specializing in Chinese and Japanese export porcelain.

Photo Credits

  • sunny burlap background image by joanna wnuk from