Wire cages protect rootballs of trees during shipping

Backyard Q&A

In The Garden

May 30, 2004|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

Last week I had three trees delivered to my home from a local nursery. They came with a wire cage around the rootball. Should the cage be removed before planting?

Wire cages are wrapped around rootballs to prevent them from falling apart during shipping. Most trees and large shrubs now come with the cages. I am certain that many thousands of trees have been planted with the cages attached and have grown on to be healthy trees. However, some evidence suggests that the wire may interfere with root development as the roots grow out of the ball and into the surrounding soil.

Ideally, the wire cages should be removed before planting, but this is not easy to do. Most cages are made of heavy-gauge wire. Professional landscapers use bolt cutters to cut the wire. If you can get bolt cutters, use them to cut the cage. If not, you will need to do a combination of gentle prying and cutting with a hacksaw or wire cutters.

In either case, I recommend these steps: (1) dig the planting hole to the proper depth and width; (2) cut off the bottom of the cage and remove it from underneath the ball; (3) gently roll the ball into the planting hole, then align and straighten the tree; (4) cut off the sides and top of the cage and remove it; and (5) finish filling the hole and planting the tree. Do not try to remove the entire cage before it is placed in the hole. It is very easy to damage the rootball in the process.

My Korean spice viburnum just finished blooming and I would like to prune it before summer. How should I prune it?

Generally, I recommend thinning plants rather than heading them back. When plants are thinned, whole branches are pruned out. However, when plants are headed back, branches are often cut in the middle just above a bud. The thinning method works best with upright growing plants that sucker from the base and are alternately branched. It is much more difficult on oppositely branched plants that have a few horizontally growing, dominant branches. This is the case with many viburnums, including your Korean spice viburnum. If they are old and overgrown, they can be difficult to thin.

I would start by taking out all dead, broken and crossing branches. If you need to reduce the size of the plant, I would continue by removing several of the oldest branches. This should be done with the intent of training several new branches to fill the empty space. To shape the plant, you may have to head back a few branches. I would head back only when there is no alternative.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic.umd.edu.


1. This is a good time to prune spring flowering shrubs such as viburnums, azalea and lilac. Pruning now will not interrupt next year's bloom.

2. Do not overmulch boxwood. Boxwood is susceptible to several root diseases that are worsened by heavy mulch. Apply no more than a 1-inch covering.

3. Be sure to stake or cage your tomato plants soon. It is much more difficult to install the stakes or cages later in the year.

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