Sometimes young trees are offered for sale in 5-, 10-, 20-gallon, and larger pots. They need to get out of these containers soon! Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming rootbound. You can check root condition at the nursery before buying; simply tip the pot to the side to see whether the roots are in a dense tangle or whether some roots are questing out of the drainage holes in the bottom — both signs of a rootbound plant.
Buying a slightly rootbound seedling tree is okay. When you get it home and are about to transfer it to the planting hole, you can score the sides vertically with a sharp knife (a mere >4-inch slice); rather than harming the rootball, this act forces the roots to generate fresh new feeder roots at the incision.
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