Kelsay Shaw, Possibility Place Nursery

When Connor Shaw founded Possibility Place Nursery in Monee, Ill., he grew standard nursery plants and dug them in a traditional balled and burlap manner. Shaw had some survival issues with difficult-to-transplant trees, mainly oaks, and it seemed like an awful lot of soil was leaving with each tree. In the mid-80’s Connor Shaw was introduced to a method of growing designed by Carl Whitcomb at Oklahoma State University: RootMakers. The root bags worked. Possibility Place Nursery’s plants were growing well and its on-site survival rate was higher than ever. The Shaw family, including Connor’s sons Tristan and Kelsay, use the same bag system although the fabric has been updated many times.

Possibility Place’s specialty is growing native trees and shrubs that are indigenous to northeast Illinois, and 90% of their plants’ seed is collected in Northern Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. The nursery also offers native perennials, grasses and sedges.

Kelsay Shaw, a botanist and now one of the partners who own Possibility Place Nursery, is impressed by the flexibility and elasticity of the root mass system and the vigor and fullness of the plants that come out of it. He says that, in their opinion, the root system coming out of the RootMaker material is superior because of its layered structures. He’s tried to compare apples to apples in the container world, so he’s tried other root-pruning containers, in addition to the industry standard smooth-sided pot. Kelsay has found that plants grown in the RootMaker system have far fewer gaps and the pot is more layered with roots from top to bottom. When you pull a plant out of its container and wash off the roots, other types of pots result in a root system that seems more hollow.

“It's the nature of the root system,” he says. “You want something that's more elastic. You need more living root tips and RootMaker seems to produce more of them for a longer period of time.”

When you pull a plant out of a smooth-sided container, you don't get a whole lot of white root tips, he says.

“When you're growing with the RootMaker material, you see a lot of white tips, you see a lot of lateral branching where, with some of the others you don't get that lateral branching,” Kelsay adds.

The Shaws have used RootMaker products since the 1980s. They follow the “step-by-step” process and use RootMaker products at every step. Most of the plants, including their trees, end up in RootMaker Grounder 5-gallons, which prune roots by constriction with specific sized holes.

One way the RootMaker system increases profits at Possibility Place Nursery is by speeding up the growth process. Before using these pots and this system, the nursery would need a full calendar year to grow a salable-size oak in a 5-gallon pot — something 24 inches or bigger. With the RootMaker system, the growth rate received a boost.

“If it's seed in February, it's ready for sale by the 1st of September,” he says. “And we were not able to do that without this pot or this system.”

The RootMaker Grounders also help with irrigation peace of mind. The structure of the container has a base material that allows roots to grow through and ground itself into soil.

“Having it be able to feed itself on ground and be able to pull water from another source beyond our drip irrigation — it matters,” he says. “When you have big trees out in the field, especially big caliper containerized trees, you're not out there losing your mind trying to run down the line with a water truck because you know they'll pull water from the ground. They’ll be okay.”