Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines March 2022 2Nd Edition

Bare Root vs Containerized Seedlings: How to Decide

In our previous article about seedling stock type, we posed the question “Should I plant bare root or container seedlings?” and our answer was… and is… “YES!, but it depends.”

Please do plant seedlings to reforest your property after a harvest. ArborGen grows both types of seedlings so we are not biased toward either type. Instead, our goal is to help landowners, consultants and other timberland managers make the best decision based on objective, quantitative analysis along with the in-depth silviculture expertise of our Reforestation Advisors.

Aerial Container Pictures 023 Scaled Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines March 2022 2Nd Edition

Having discussed your goals, we can help you evaluate your land, its soils, site preparation needs, potential cash flows and other factors that might affect which seedling type to plant.

As, or more, important with seedling type is the level of genetics chosen because the seedling is really just the “package” for whatever kind of genetics, old-school or advanced, that determines the productivity, health and value of a future forest.

Under typical conditions during the normal planting window of December to March, bare root seedlings will survive and grow equally well compared to containerized seedlings and at a significantly lower cost. With good site preparation, proper handling and planting quality, bare root seedlings will average @85-90% survival. Under similar conditions, containerized seedlings will survive at higher rates and can be planted earlier (mid October) and later (April) into the planting season than bare root seedlings.

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Remember, planting containerized seedlings is not a substitute for good site preparation. Landowners should not skimp on site preparation thinking that containers will compensate for poor or no site prep.

For example, failing to bed a wet site and then planting containers will not give results as good as bedding and planting bare root seedlings.

So how can landowners determine which type of seedling to plant? Dr. Rafael de la Torre, ArborGen’s Manager of Planning & Analysis, was tasked to help provide the answer. His analysis compared different levels of survival of bare root seedlings from 50-90% to 95% survival for container seedlings. He assumed 505 trees per acre (TPA) for containers and 545 TPA for bare root.

Using growth and yield biometric models to project how stands will develop for this range of survival, he then used cash flow analysis to determine the net dollar value (aka: Bare Land Value which is the sum of all costs and revenues during the life of the stand in perpetual rotations in today’s dollars) generated for the landowner under each survival level.

For additional insight, he calculated these values for several levels genetics starting with Open Pollinated (OP) 2ndGen, OP Elite, Mass Control Pollinated®(MCP) Advanced, Select, Elite and 2.0. He also conducted these analyses for each of the four major growing regions of the Southeast and used the timber prices for those regions.

The results were clear and are shown in the graph below for the lower coastal plain region.

Ag Graph Barerootvscontainer V2 Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines March 2022 2Nd Edition

Planting containerized seedlings with 95% survival is not financially justified when bare root seedling survival is greater than 60%, i.e. doing so yields a lower value per acre.

This is true for every level of genetics and for all four of the major regions. And at 60% bare root survival, the value is very close to equal for bareroot and containers.

The two reasons for this outcome is that the containers cost more and because after thinning, there are only 120-140 crop trees per acre.

The results for genetics were also clear. Planting MCP more than doubles the value of planting OP 2nd gen seedlings and is substantially higher over OP Elite seedlings. An important interpretation of these results is that when bare root survival is expected to greater than 60%, the landowner would generate much more net profit by putting the additional cost of containers into MCP bare root instead.

05 Arborgen Tree Seedlings Treelines March 2022 2Nd Edition

This is important because we are seeing many landowners plant containers with sub-par genetics. Yes, they may get good survival, but ultimately give up an enormous financial opportunity they could have had with MCP that produces much more wood volume of higher quality….more sawtimber.

So, remember, survival only gets you trees, but genetics delivers the value. Spending more money on containerized seedlings is a cost, but spending more money on genetics is an investment.

Plant the right seedling type for your property using all available information such as this analysis. Our Reforestation Advisors will be glad to help guide you through the decision process that meets your goals using our state-of-the-art tools and their years of expertise.

Success Story: Brandon Chandler

Brandon Chandler – owner of Neill Forestry Consultants – discusses the history of how Neill Forestry Consultants came to trust ArborGen seedlings as their preferred seedlings.

Consistent quality, top-notch customer service, and results that speak for themselves.

Need a trusted partner to guide the way?
Get in touch with a Reforestation Advisor to explore your options!
Austin Heine

Austin Heine

North Carolina and Virginia


Jason Cromer

Jason Cromer

Florida, Georgia


Greg Hay

Greg Hay

Arkansas, Northern Louisiana, and Oklahoma


Shannon Stewart

Shannon Stewart

Eastern Texas, Southern Louisiana


Paul Jeffreys, Ph.d.

Paul Jeffreys, Ph.D.

Alabama & Mississippi

Manager Special Projects & Sustainability

Kylie Burdette

Kylie Burdette

U.S. Sales Manager

Reforestation Advisor
South Carolina

Jason Watson

Jason Watson

Director, U.S. Sales