Bare root is exactly that- a tree or shrub that has had all of the soil removed for shipping and is therefore just the plant and it’s roots. Since there is no pot or soil attached, these plants are usually less expensive than their container grown counterparts and can be an economical alternative to purchasing many larger trees and shrubs, especially if you have a large amount of landscaping to do, or are on a tight budget.
Since these bare root plants have no soil to protect and insulate their roots, they need some special handling and protection until you get them planted in order to be successful, and can be a little tricky, however many people prefer these to the more traditional, containerized material. Essentially you want to get these plants in the ground while they are still in their dormant phase. If you want to try your hand at planting bare root stock this spring, here are some tips, tricks, pointers and planting instructions to help you be successful
The first thing to keep in mind is that during transportation from the grower and subsequent storage, the bare roots cannot be allowed to either dry out or freeze at all. This will kill the delicate roots which will ultimately kill the entire plant.
The roots should be packed in sawdust, straw or can even be wrapped in plastic. Keep them in a cool, dark place out of direct sunlight. If they get warm or are in sunlight, this could damage the roots or stimulate them into breaking dormancy. Even though you want to get them planted before they break dormancy, one of the tricks is to keep them in sync with the local climate which means that in our area, you’ll want to have them in the ground fairly soon this year and basically as soon as the ground in your area can be worked. Store them as short a time as possible. However, there are a few varieties- peaches, nectarines, and apricots that need to go through a process called “sweating” where the humidity and temperature are increased enough to force the buds to swell and begin to break open before the tree is ready to plant. Your salesman should be able to tell you if this is needed for the varieties you’ve chosen and how to do it at home if it hasn’t already been done for you.
Plant your bare root stock on a day when the temperatures are above freezing. Begin by soaking the roots in a container of water for a few hours. Be careful to completely submerge the entire root system.
Dig the hole in which you want to plant two to three times wider than the root spread and slightly deeper so that the roots aren’t bent into the hole. Prune off any broken or damaged roots and clean cut any jagged ends. Cut extremely long or stringy roots as well. Basically you want to shape the roots and remove anything that would be damaged in any way and could cause damage to the plant after it is planted.
On the top, prune off one third to one half the length of all good branches to an outside bud. Thin and weak, crowded or otherwise undesirable branches- those that cross or could cause damage later. This is the same basic process that you would use when pruning the trees and shrubs that are already established in your yard. Doing this will allow the plant to send nutrients to the viable buds, reducing the strain on the rest of the plant. The buds and branches that are left will be stronger for the pruning that you do now.
When planting, look for the old soil line near the base of the plant where it joins the roots. Plant your stock at this line or slightly above. If you can’t locate the old soil line, then plant level or slightly above where the top part of the plant meets the roots. Prepare your backfill by using a mix of two thirds existing soil with one third Back to Earth acidified cotton boll compost to give your plant extra help in getting established. This product is the best thing we’ve found to break down the heavy clay soils here, help in sandy situations, provide drainage in poor soil, and also provide organic matter to nourish the plant.
Water the plant thoroughly by soaking and settling the soil around the roots. You may have to do this a couple of times until the soil settles into all of the cavities and pockets that are in the roots – it just depends on how extensive the root system is and how much pruning you’ve done. This is usually the only watering that will be needed until the plant begins to actively grow a little later in the spring. Right now, with all of the great moisture we’ve had over the winter, the ground is fairly wet and your plant should be fine, depending on where you live. In general, bare root stock requires less water to become established. However, you should check periodically to be sure that the soil is still moist. That’s the trick- making sure those roots don’t dry out. Conversely, you don’t want to drown them either, which is why the proper preparation of the backfill soil is so important.
Generally young trees will benefit from staking on opposite sides, especially considering how wild the spring winds can be in our area. Stakes can be removed later in the summer once the tree or shrub has rooted in- generally around early August.
Wait to apply fertilizer until after the plant comes out of dormancy. We recommend fertilizing in April, June and early August for plants that are already established in your landscape and you can get your bare root plants in sync with that schedule once they have started to grow. Use a good, balanced fertilizer recommended for that particular plant.
Bare root nursery stock can be a great choice as a way to get your yard landscaped or an economical alternative to a hefty nursery bill. The key to success is to handle and store them properly and plant following directions carefully.
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at email@example.com.