Should Burlap Be Removed From a Ball & Burlap Plant, Prior to Planting It?

Got a question for ya. When you’re planting a balled and burlapped shrub or tree, do you remove or do anything to the burlap before planting it? If you’ve always wondered about that, I have the answer once and for all from one of the most respected growers out there.

In the past when I’ve planted shrubs that were ball and burlap, I’ve always been told by a well-known, popular nursery with many locations here in the Atlanta area, to leave the burlap on the plant and just loosen/cut away the burlap from the top of the plant before filling in the hole with dirt.

Since I have such a large investment in the 10 balled and burlapped Green Beauty Boxwood shrubs I purchased recently for my front yard landscape, I decided to Google before planting them to see what I could find online.

Several sites said that the burlap being used on plants today isn’t as biodegradable as the burlap in year’s past. Apparently, some ball and burlap plants are wrapped in a synthetic type burlap that doesn’t degrade and rot away like the burlap of yesterday. Ummm.

Green Beauty Boxwood


I decided to call the nursery where I had purchased my shrubs and ask what kind of burlap was used on my boxwood shrubs and if it would rot away, or did I need to remove it. The answer I got was the same one I’ve always gotten in the past: leave it on the plant, but just loosen and cut it away from the top of the plant.

Planting Green Beauty Boxwood Shrubs


Since the nursery was giving me conflicting answers to what I had read online, I decided to go straight to the source. I think my plants are from Monrovia so I Googled for their phone number. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to have a customer service number listed on their website, at least not one I could find. After some searching around on their site, I was able to find an e-mail for them. I e-mailed Monrovia and asked this question: “Do I need to remove the burlap from my Green Beauty boxwood shrubs before planting?”

The reply came back fairly quickly:

Should I remove burlap from Ball & Burlap Shrub


Just to clarify, I e-mailed back and mentioned that my local nursery where I had purchased my plants, told me I only needed to cut away the top part of the burlap. I ended my e-mail by saying I would go ahead and remove all of the burlap.

A reply came quickly and reassured me that this was the correct action to take:

Remove Burlap From Ball and Burlap Plant, Before Planting It

So there you have it, the answer directly from a company that’s been in business since 1926 and whose opinion I greatly respect. I’ve always had good luck with Monrovia plants, so I followed their advice while planting these five Green Beauty boxwood.

Landscaping with Boxwood Shrubs


I’ll do the same for the remaining five ball and burlap Green Beauty boxwood as I begin planting those this week. Feels good to know I’m going about it the right way. Now if I could just twitch my nose Samantha-style and have them all magically planted, that would be grand! 😉

Landscaping with Green Beauty & Baby Gem Boxwood and Limelight Hydrangeas

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  1. Looking great!! Did you end up doing them alone? Your poor aching back!!

    • Thanks! Yup, I decided it would be good for me to plant them since I sit way too much these days and could really use the exercise. I thought I’d just plant a couple a day until I’m done. I think I’ve been averaging more like 3-4 a day, though. I feel a lot stronger after planting them…lots of squats and the arms are feeling it!

  2. We were told to leave the burlap on because they don’t want the roots disturbed. They told us the roots will work their way out of the burlap and not to worry but we always felt uncomfortable about it. We cut the burlap after it was in the hole and just folded it back a bit. We’ve never had a problem but it was a tree not a shrub so hard telling how your boxwood so would have done with the burlap left on. The biggest problem is not watering them well enough after they’re planted. We just dropped a hose on the plant with a very slow flow and made sure it was getting watered deeply. Usually the first year is the most important for that and then they are established.

    • I think the old burlap that was really fabric was probably okay. Everything is synthetic/fake these days. Hard to find natural fiber anything anymore.

  3. Your work looks so rewarding, Susan. I would’ve said remove the burlap too. No matter how small a plant, I always loosen the roots when I plant, annual or perennial. Not only is burlap more than likely a synthetic these days, it’s probably also got chemical treatment in its processing. It’s good that Monrovia answered you and clarified.
    I just came in from doing my own lawn weed treatment. We’re trying our own hand at it this year. Crossing my fingers I didn’t kill any plantings along the perimeter. :/

    • That’s a good point about the chemicals…yuck! Yeah, they got back to me quickly, thank goodness. I bet you did great, Rita! Just be sure and wear a mask so you don’t breathe anything in.

  4. The plants are beautiful. But…I’m concerned about them being so close to the house and so close together. Are these plants that don’t grow much more? Or are you aiming for a hedge? I grow my boxwoods from cuttings and will be someplace around 10 feet tall if i don’t prune.
    They do best here with added lime. Did you check on the soil requirements and have the extension office check your soil?
    Your place is going to be truly beautiful if you keep on keeping on…(((big grin))). (See how out of date I am…about emoticons etc and modern gardening, too……

    • Thanks, MJ! Don’t worry, they are about 3 feet out from house and they are pretty much the size we’ll be keeping them. We may let them grow a little but they are very close to the size I want them to be. Green Beauty only gets about 3-4 feet high and these are close to 3 feet tall.

      • Will make a note re: green beauty’s height. Should do okay to screen my AC unit. Nothing has looked right yet. These are small enough to leave air space and also fit around the unit in the space i have. Will check them out. Thanks for the tip.

        You are mostly between naps, aren’t you, with all that digging.
        I lovelovelove your low-silled windows. They look so posh and classic……nice……..cheers, MJ

        • lol Yeah, not a lot of napping takes place around here. 🙂 Thanks, I love the full length windows, too. I’ve noticed a lot of houses here in the south have those. MJ, also look at Wintergreen, they are very similar to Green Beauty and stay pretty low. I just discovered this morning that quite a few of my shrubs are Wintergreen, they sent those by mistake, but they are almost impossible to tell them apart from Green Beauty so I think I’m going to stay with them. Baby Gem Boxwoods stay small too, I think they max out at 3 feet. There are quite a few out there now that don’t grow too, too tall.

  5. I’m glad they told you to remove burlap! Some people recommend slashing the burlap, but if you’re going to that much trouble, removing it is better and allows for the roots to have more complete contact with the soil. Just keep the crown slightly higher than the surrounding area, because it will settle a little and you don’t want to create a hole that will hold water and rot the root system. Good luck with your plants! They are beautiful.

    • Thanks, Janet. I have been doing that. Once I’m done, I’m going to go around and check them all and if any have settled, I’ll pull them up tiny bit and add a little dirt in. I read somewhere that once you water them, they will sometimes sink a little as the dirt settles. Thanks for that tip, though…so important to know all this stuff! 🙂

  6. In my Master Gardener class, we learned that the burlap on shrubs and trees should be removed before planting. You have inspired me to research boxwoods as foundation plants in the front of our house and I can’t wait to see your boxwoods once installed and mulched. It will all look fantastic–great job!

  7. Since you are supposed to lightly loosen the soil around the roots to allow them to grow, when transplanting house plants, that makes perfect sense for outdoor plants as well. If biodegradable, maybe use the burlap under the mulch to deter weeds. Can’t wait for the “reveal”!!

  8. I really like the look you are going after. Simple, very neat, and so right with your house. Just love boxwood. I actually planted many myself but they were much smaller in size. I just can’t imagine planting them at that size by myself. I think the benches add a lot to your porch. Happy planting and will look forward to seeing the finished pictures.

    • Thanks, Marlene! I have fallen in love with boxwood, too. I’m just planting a few each day so it’s really not that bad. I got three things planted today so far. If I feel up to it, I may plant another shrub this evening when it cools off a bit.

  9. I always remove the burlap. You can leave it on but if any part of it sticks out of the soil, it will wick moisture away from the roots which is the last thing you want with a new shrub or tree. Better safe than sorry I think.

  10. Regality (aka The Quing) says


  11. Bunny Rogers says

    I got my degree in Horticulture and Landscape Design in 1976 from Oklahoma State University and my Master Gardening Certificate (right there at Atlanta Botanical Gardens) in 1981. In school we had some very interesting field work experimenting with different soil additives, mulch, and planting methods. Each class would take careful notes about every detail imaginable and each subsequent class would dig the plants up and make equally detailed notes. We measured root growth, trunk growth, etc. It was fascinating.
    Even that far back we learned to CUT AND REMOVE all material which tied up around the burlap and to let the burlap rest on the bottom of the planting hole. Sometimes shrubs had plastic twine, jute or wire and all that had to be removed. We also learned NOT to add peat moss, manure etc as that made lazy roots which would not grow too far from loose and enriched soil. (for perennials and flower beds the opposite is true, Enrich, Enrich, Enrich.) We learned how to SLASH with abandon roots to stimulate new growth. But old habits die hard and in my design business I learned some old timers simply would not change what they swore had been working for them forever. Your yards is beautiful and congratulations on doing the work yourself.

    • Thanks so much, Bunny! That is so interesting about how the old timers won’t change. Guess it’s that old expression about being set in your way. I’m totally open to new ideas, as long as someone has tested them and knows they work.
      I didn’t know that about not adding peat moss/manure, etc… to shrubs/trees. Good to know! The nursery where I purchased my shrubs encouraged me to buy this stuff called Sure Start which is supposed to stimulate the roots. It’s a fine, white powder and they said to mix a little of it into the soil around the plant, so I have been using that. Does that sound okay? You can see it here:

  12. Regality (aka The Quing) says

    Ah. I thought you might have acquired a “we” without telling us. *L*

  13. Linda Page says

    Let me know if you figure out how to make that nose twitching thing work!!! Don’t we all wish we could do that about a lot of stuff….cleaning house, mowing yard, washing car!!! Where is a little witch power when you need it?? I have never left the burlap on balled plants. It just made sense to me that the roots would spread faster without the burlap. So glad to hear the experts at Monrovia agree. I know you want your Boxwoods to take hold and start growing and settling in as soon as possible. The front of your house is looking really good. Good job!

    • Definitely! That was always my favorite part of that show. lol Thanks, Linda! It will take a bit to get it just the way I envision, but it’s getting there.

  14. Susan, did you put anything on the ground to prevent weeks under the pine straw ? Here in FL, by the time you finished planting, grass would be growing around the boxwood. I don’t like the black cloth and use an old method of putting wet newspaper down first. If someone doesn’t have a watering system, I like to put a 10-12 inch piece of PVC into the ground near the trees and shrubs to add water when we have water restrictions.
    Listening to your burlap or no burlap question, I thought about Roger, the landscape expert, on This Old House. The go to guy.
    Still love the black benches.

    • Thanks, Myrna! It feels like the porch should have always had those benches now. I can’t believe I waited so long to think of adding them. No, I didn’t think to put anything down, but there weren’t that many weeds in that area. I had gotten rid of the few that were there a while back. I just hired a company to care for my yard and part of the service is weeding the beds. They told me they will hand-weed areas that are near shrubs and flowers. I’ve never had anyone do this for me, so this is a huge change.
      I didn’t know about the PVC pipe, what a great idea. How does that work? Do you just pour water into the pipe and it goes down as needed?

      • Just a straight piece of PVC pipe shoved in the ground when I plant. The hardware store will cut it for you. Don’t forget to move it once in awhile or it will stay as the trees and shrubs grow around it. I also put diluted Miracle Grow in it. I started doing this when there was a water shortage and we couldn’t use sprinklers. As per Martha Steward, I used old panty hose legs to tie trees to the stakes. They lasted a long time.

        • Oh, interesting! I never would have thought about doing that with the pipe. I guess that gets the water right to the roots where it needs to go.

  15. Susan, that Samantha-twitch thing would be so handy! If you ever figure it out, do let me in on the secret!

    I love Monrovia plants too, and I am so glad to hear you had a good experience with their customer service. These days, even trusted brands do not always have reliable customer service.

    Looking forward to the “reveal”! Good luck with the digging!

  16. OH, Myrna…I just did the PVC pipe for a dwarf cherry tree and thought it was MY idea…who knew??!!?? Certainly get’s water directly to the roots!! franki

    • LOL Don’t forget to move it once in awhile. I have a couple that are never going anywhere again. I also use it to put some diluted Miracle Grow.

  17. I love the boxwoods and those benches are a fabulous touch to the porch!
    Great job!

  18. Glad you contacted Monrovia…going directly to the source….Yes, I would think that removing the burlap is a good thing for the plant to get a great start!….Your landscaping is looking fabulous!

  19. bobbi duncan says

    Love boxwoods, and about to see lots of them as we are heading for Williamsburg tomorrow. Your yard will be soooo beautiful! We have lots of landscape renewal, plus a better deck, planned for the fall as our builder grade plantings are not what we envision for our yard. We only have a small yard now that we have downsized, but it’s still costly to make things look nice. You can be proud of yourself for all the hard work you’ve invested. Know what you mean about sitting too much. Michael and I are getting a Fit-bit so that we can be motivated to do at least 10,000 steps each day. Lots of walking during this vaca, and I feel much more energetic already. Maybe I’ll even lose some of the ten pounds I’ve put on over the last five years…lol! Hugs!

  20. Cyndi Raines says

    Glad you’ve removed the burlap. I would have, just makes sense to me so the roots can grow better. I’m trying to decide what to do now that 3 of 5 of our full grown holly bushes died from the last two severe winters we had. They created a beautiful hedge at the base of the deck. I’m just sick that they are gone. Twenty years of maintenance and now I have to start over.

    • So sorry that happened, Cyndi. Mother Nature sure messes with our plans. My huge, beautiful gardenia bush/tree was almost completely killed 2-3 winters ago in an ice storm and it still looks terrible. I was thinking the other day I should just remove it. I don’t think it will ever recover again. I hope you can find some good size ones to plant so you don’t have to wait forever for them to get big again.

  21. I’ve been wondering about this for awhile and I’m so glad to finally have a full answer straight from the source! Thanks for sharing!

  22. I had asked earlier about your mulch but just had it answered by someone on this post. Pine Straw Mulch? Is that a Southern thing? I have never heard of it, but do like the look of it! Everything looks lovely. I also love the low windows, I always said when we built it would be nine over nine and I do love them.

    • Hi Mary Anne,
      Thanks, I love the longer windows, too! 🙂
      I had answered your question when you asked it on this post:
      I’ll copy and paste the answer again here…maybe my reply went to your spam folder last time instead of your Inbox.
      Here’s the reply I wrote on that other post:
      Thanks, Mary Anne! I hasn’t think about how mulch can be regional, have always taken our pine straw for granted. We have a gazillion pine trees here in Georgia as Ray Charles so beautifully sang about in his song, Georgia. So pine straw is available here in abundance.
      I purchased 10 bales this year from Lowe’s and it’s was excellent, some of the nicest I’ve ever purchased. I noticed the name on the truck said M & H Pine Straw, Rhine, Georgia. The long-leaf or long needle is the best, it normally looks the nicest and stays fresh the longest. I try to stay away from slash which is bits and pieces and tends to deteriorate quickly. Pine straw normally needs to be refreshed a couple of times a years, usually pine straw only lasts about six months, so spring and fall are ideal times to put it out. We have a lot of azaleas here in the south and they love acidic soil so they love pine straw mulch, too.

  23. Love your plantings! I’ve taken a blog break for awhile and I’m sorry I missed this post. We just put in half of our new foundation plants and one item was balled and burlapped. The folks insisted we did not need to remove burlap…it is real burlap at least….and even said we did not need to cut away the top or the twine. Well…I just knew that wasn’t right so we did cut the string and pull it back from the top…but I don’t have the heart to tell my husband to dig up that tree:). I love the boxwood you chose! Our homes are almost identical…except I do not have the beautiful roof over my little stoop. I went a different direction…no standard shrubs and no symmetry. So now seeing your beautiful symmetry of the classic backwoods, l am a little nervous about my design choice. Isn’t that always the way:)?

    • Judi, don’t you worry, I bet your tree will do great. Just be sure to water it regularly for the first couple of months. That will also help the burlap to rot away faster. Isn’t it weird how there are so many different opinions about whether we should leave the burlap on or not. It’s really confusing for us homeowners.
      Yup, I know what you mean…I’ve been so indecisive about what to do out front, hopefully I made the right decision. I’m not normally a “formal” person when it comes to my garden, so this is a little different for me.

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