David Hughes, president of Rock Bridge Trees in Bethpage, Tenn., saw “some pretty amazing results” from containers the nursery purchased from RootMaker when Rock Bridge began operations in 2011. A winning partnership was quickly formed.

Rock Bridge Trees is a mail-order nursery with a wholesale division, selling flowering trees and shrubs that benefit honeybees, butterflies, and other pollinators. It also offers grafted pecan trees and other native fruit and nut trees.

Hughes says Rock Bridge Trees’ original concept was to grow grafted northern pecan trees for a retail mail-order market.

“Pecans are a challenge to ship retail because of their strong taproot. We have developed a system, using the RootMaker system, for air pruning the taproot and developing a strong system of feeder roots that allows us to ship a pecan tree with all its roots. Bare root, field grown pecans have what I consider an unacceptably high mortality rate. Our RootMaker trees are grown in a container that can be shipped, removed from the bag by the customer, and planted with excellent results.”

Fueled by initial results, Rock Bridge Trees expanded its offerings.

“We start with 32-cell RootMaker trays for our germination and seedling production. Root pruning should start from the very beginning,” he says.

Rock Bridge Trees moves to 1-gallon mesh bags and 2-gallon RootTrapper bags for its mail-order production. Product that outgrows mail order production goes into 3-, 5-, 7-, and up to 15-gallon RootTrapper bags.

Root pruning and root structure are “key” in the nursery’s growing process. “By starting with a root-pruned seedling and transplanting it to the next appropriate container, you see very little, if any, transplant shock, even in mid-summer. These pots create a dense, fibrous root system that can take full advantage of fertilizer and water. We actually have trees that outgrow our ability to ship in a single season,” he says.

RootMaker bags produce an outward facing root system that allows a freshly transplanted tree to immediately begin to root into a new environment, he explains. For larger container production, trees root in “remarkably fast.”

“I only use RootMaker bags; the quality is top notch and the stitching is strong. We have never had a bag fail and almost never have roots escape,” he says.

Hughes says that RootMaker’s contributions to his business are many and go beyond superior products.

“Dr. Carl Whitcomb invented the system and wrote several books about the growing system. I have found them to be invaluable. His insights on root pruning, fertilization and watering should be used more widely. RootMaker has a very informative website that explains the system well.”

Hughes gets “a lot of positive feedback” on the quality of its trees.

“Our wholesale customers seem to be well pleased with the performance of our trees... they love all those roots,” he says. “I have seen no reason to try any other containers.”