Bare Root Tree Sources

Bare root rather than tangled and mangle roots

Once we knew that terribly twisted roots had become the norm in nursery- and garden center woody plants, we did two things. First, we started working out ways to evaluate and correct roots at planting time. Second, we began looking for places to buy smaller plants, with roots not yet mangled. This led us to bare root nurseries such as are listed here.

 Before you buy bare root

Five things you should know about buying bare root plants:

  • Most growers ship only in spring and fall.
  • You must be prepared to plant immediately or hold the plant in cold storage.
  • Most bare root plants available to retail buyers – one or a few at a time vs. wholesale quantities – are seedlings or two- to three year old plants. They range from one- to six feet tall. Even the tallest are saplings without great girth. (Thus the name “whip.”)
  • Species and variety choices are much more limited in bare root than in container grown plants. We gardeners want that seedless locust or reliably fungus-free crabapple or unusually narrow maple – traits that occur only here and there in any batch of seedlings and which may not even be expressed until a plant is mature. Growers answer that demand by grafting* most trees and many shrubs.
    *Grafting marries a branch or bud from a plant with known desirable characteristics to a less remarkable but readily available rootstock. Thus the top of the plant is a clone of the original in color, disease resistance, shape, etc. Most shrub varieties that are not grafted are produced by cuttings for the same reason. Grafting is an art. Grafted plants may be too valuable to be planted out in a field exposed to Nature’s capriciousness. Cuttings must be kept  in a controlled environment until they root. Thus grafted or cutting-grown varieties usually start in pots in a greenhouse. Fruit trees are often exceptions, grafted but available bare root.

    So if we buy seedlings/bare root we must know what we want can be had in a seed-grown individual of that species. For instance, Janet and Steven love all sugar maples for their upright oval shape and fall color. We can be happy with a seed grown plant. However, when we must have one with a reliably deep orange fall color, we opt for a grafted, potted plant. (Thus the second set of nurseries listed below.)
  • Last but certainly not least: To buy seed-grown trees, as most bare roots are, you should look into all the traits a tree of that species might have and accept the possibility that your tree may exhibit them. To buy a young, seed-grown ginkgo tree, for instance, is to risk buying a female tree. Unless it was cloned, no one can tell male from female until the tree begins to flower at 15 or 20 years of age. If the flowers produce pollen you can breathe a sigh of relief (unless you have pollen allergies!) because the tree is male. If the flowers are not pollen producers the tree is a female and will eventually produce fruits known for their stink when they lay upon the ground.


Retail sales in small quantities


Chief River Nursery Co., Grafton, WI
Ornamental trees and shrubs, evergreens, retail and wholesale


Cold Stream Farm, Free Soil, MI
Conifers (arborvitaes, firs, pines, dawn redwood), shade trees, some shrubs.

Janet and Steven: Have purchased several beautiful young conifers from them. Planning to buy dawn redwoods and hard-to-find native Amorpha shrubs in fall.


Oikos Tree Crops, Kalamazoo, MI
Many fruit- and nut trees and shrubs including hard to find natives.

Janet and Steven have interviewed the owner and are impressed with his passion. Purchased a shrub, good quality

Pretty concolor fir froom Cold Stream Farm meets ours and the dog's appproval.

Pretty concolor fir froom Cold Stream Farm meets ours and the dog's appproval.

Silver Creek Nursery Fruit Trees, Wellesley, Ontario (no international sales)

Janet and Steven: Have visited the nursery and planted several fine  Silver Creek fruit trees in Ontario gardens.


Wild Type Nursery, Mason, MI
Michigan natives: perennials, some shrubs and trees

Janet and Steven: Have purchased many fine plants from Wild Type.


Two fine little pear trees from Silver Creek Nursery

Two fine little pear trees from Silver Creek Nursery

Lists of growers

Directory of Michigan Seedling Nurseries, prepared by Michigan DNR

Although many on this list grow primarily to supply Christmas tree farms and reforestation projects and so deal in wholesale quantities, some sell in retail quantities, some also offer deciduous trees, shrubs, fruit trees, berrying shrubs and natives.

Thanks to reader Nick Mendes for finding this list which contains some of the nurseries we know and many new sources.

Thanks to reader Nick Mendes for finding this list which contains some of the nurseries we know and many new sources.

Wholesale orders

McKay Nursery, Waterloo, WI

Larger, older trees such as are offered by ReLeaf Michigan and some city beautification sales


Not bare root...

...but plants in sizes small enough that roots may still be untangled

Forestfarm, Williams, Oregon

Perennials, woody plants, conifers. Many fine species and varieties offered.

Janet and Steven have purchased many woody and perennial plants. Quality is good, disappointments have been graciously corrected.


Gossler Farms, Springfield, Oregon

Many fine ornamental species and varieties.

Janet and Steven: Have purchased woody plants and been happy with the quality


Reviews needed!

We have not ordered from all or even most of these nurseries yet so we appreciate and will revise this article to include any reviews you send or post on our Forum




Good roots are not our only reason to buy small trees. We also know without a doubt that a smaller tree will beat a larger one, if the two are planted into a garden at the same time. We understand the desire for immediate size but we press people we work for to let us plant small whenever possible. Check out this David-beats-Goliath aspect of tree planting in Why Start Tree Small