Initial styling of nursery stock - what do to with the roots?

I’m watching Ryan’s Nursery Stock #3 video for the fourth time, getting ready to find the nebari and front of a nursery stock Nordman Fir. I dug down almost halfway into the 3-gallon nursery pot to find an impressive trunk flare begin, so I feel I’ve at least found the base. I cut the container lower to make it easier to see and work with the trunk base.

But… the roots encircle the pot, and most are quite long. The root mass still sits above the newly found trunk base and are somewhat exposed. I’ve added the soil I removed back on top at least for now to keep them protected, but I’m not sure what a good next step is.

I was going to do an initial clean up and style on the tree, and just leave it in the nursery pot for a year, but I feel I need to do something about the roots. What’s the best idea? Growbox transplant without disturbing the root ball (much)? Different pot? Root trimming? Just tuck them down into the existing pot? I’d love to learn what might work.

Your guidance is appreciated.

Hi @ImAllBlurry,
It would be helpful to see a picture and to know what your goals are for the tree.

Of course, Ryan, I should have added them to the first post. The attached image illustrates my problem - the base of the trunk starts to flare about halfway down into the container (I removed about 3 inches from the top), but the roots are still well above that flared trunk base. I covered them back up with the nursery soil I removed to keep them protected, but I’m not sure what to do with them as I start to work on the tree.

My goals for this tree are fairly simple. I’m really just using it as a learning and training tool for basic techniques. It will make a nice informal upright, and has quite a few options for branch selection, wiring practice and styling. It’s smaller than, but quite like the fir Ryan styles in Nursery Stock #3.

As a new user I’m only allowed one photo attachment per post, so I included the most pertinent one. If you need to see another, please let me know…

Thanks again,

This is just my two cents as a fellow beginner but I think the best thing to do would be to leave all the foliage and re-pot next spring. Leaving all the foliage will give you leeway to heavily reduce the roots and eliminate circling ones.

I would go ahead and repot this year to fully expose the basal flare and get the roots pointed in the right direction. I have traditionally repotted this type of tree into a container that is a bit larger in size, but good depth for the root ball. I tease out the circling roots, cutting off the ones above the nebari and extra long ones. I make sure to loosen the outer portions of the remaining rootball so it can be integrated with some good soil. This will allow the formation of a good domesticated ring of roots to support the tree when you next repot to clear out the core (shin). On the other hand, it has also been recommended that the tree is most likely as strong as it will ever be and it is a good time to do serious root work to get it into a proper sized container. My approach is probably safer, but will take at least 3 repots to get it into a proper container. The later approach requires more care and aftercare, but gets it into the container sooner. In either case, I would repot as long as it is still spring in your area.


My advice to repot this year is based upon minor clean up of old needles to allow light to the interior and styling of the tree so that most of the viable foliage remains to regenerate roots. If you do any real styling of the tree then wait until next year to repot. I prefer to do the roots first and then style, but we each have our preferred order.