I am one of those people who sees something and it inspires me to experiment. As I have started field growing some trees by one of those ideas, I would love some feedback from those of you with more experience in the horticultural arena.
This idea came to me as a wild offshoot when saw an article referencing using colanders for root growth, and another by a grower who plants shallowly in large nursery pots, cutting more drainage holes where the side meets the bottom and allows the roots to grow out those holes into the soil beneath.
First off, instead of using relatively expensive colanders for something that may or may not, at this point, develop into a worthy tree, I found that my local dollar store carried plastic laundry-style baskets that were about 12" x 5". Rather than trying to describe them, I’ve attached photos. You will see that there openings for hand holds, so the 5" depth comes to the bottom of those openings.
I figured that for a dollar each, it was worth an experiment. So, when I had a few young trees and saplings that I wanted to put into the ground to thicken up, I planted each of them into one of these baskets almost as if I was potting them. I mixed about 1/3 pumice into the soil in the basket to aid in root development, and then I planted the basket into the ground. This was last year.
My reasoning for doing this was that perhaps I could combine some of the benefits of growing them in pots, with the benefits of field growing. Trees in pots are easy to move - to rotate, etc., and the roots in pots are naturally contained and are far less damaged when it is time to transfer into another vessel, although the downside is that growth is slower in a pot.
All of the trees budded out vigorously this spring, and then unexpected events revealed that I would have to move some of them. It was already some weeks after it would have been a good time to repot them, but I had no choice. I found that a couple clean cuts around the outside with the shovel, and I was able to dig up the baskets without disturbing the significant root mass at all. One of them is a hemlock, so I was very happy about that.
I am looking forward to seeing what the roots look like in a year or two. I believe that the basket will encourage significant roots to grow horizontally as if placed on a tile, OR, the mesh of the basket will girdle them, creating a natural cut off point that encourages the growth of feeder roots closer to the trunk.
One item of note is that these baskets do not have any UV inhibitors, so any portion left above ground will crumble. I expect that the portion below the surface, however, will last long enough for me to get my dollar’s worth.