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Back to How To....    |   How To Plant Bare-Root Trees and Shrubs

There are many terrific benefits to buying and planting bare-root trees and shrubs, but the first two that come to mind are:
  1. Variety: There is an incredible variety available from fruit and shade trees, to flowering shrubs and vines, grapes, cane fruits, and all kinds of roses: standards, climbers, hybrid teas, antique, etc.

  2. Price: They are less expensive than plants grown in containers (sometimes by as much as 70% less) and they already have good growth on them, so you get a good sized plant for the money.
You can plant dormant bare-root anytime the ground isn't frozen, from late fall to as early in spring as possible, which means you have several months to purchase and plant attractive new plants for your yard or garden.

To take full advantage of all of this, here are some hints and tips that can make the entire process faster and easier, ensuring a successful outcome.

1. Buy Quality

Buy from a quality garden center or nursery that heels in their bare-root properly. This means that they have buried the roots in moist sand, soil or sawdust ensuring the roots never dry out. This is very important because you want to keep the roots moist and healthy.

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2. Be Picky

When choosing a tree or shrub, make sure it has strong, plump, fresh-looking branches and roots. Avoid any that look dried out, or that have slimy, rotted roots, or that have already leafed out.

After you have made your choice, be sure the people at the garden center plunge the roots into a bucket of water and then place the bare-root into a plastic bag to keep the roots wet for the ride home.

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3. Plant As Soon As Possible

When you get home if you can't plant them out right away, you will need to heel them in again in a shady area, making sure to keep the roots covered and moist until you can plant them. The ideal is to plant out your bare-root as soon as you get home.

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4. Clear the Area

Once you have chosen the best location for your plants that suit their growing requirements, you will want to clear the area where you are going to plant of any weeds or debris.

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5. Dig The Hole Properly

We are using a bare-root standard (tree) rose for this tutorial, but the following planting instructions apply to any bare-root trees or shrubs.

Start by digging a hole that will be wide enough to comfortably accommodate the root system and that has sides that taper outward into the soil. Making sure the hole is wide enough will also allow the plant to establish faster because you have given it plenty of loosened soil that is easier for the roots to grow in.

In heavy clay or hardpan soils, if the sides of the hole are smooth, you will need to roughen them with a spading fork to make it easier for the roots to grow into the soil.

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6. Make a Cone

In the bottom of the planting hole, make a firm cone shape of soil.

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7. Spread the Roots

Spread the roots over the cone, making sure the plant roots are in complete contact with the soil. You don't want any air pockets developing between the roots and the soil.

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8. Correct Depth

Make sure the plant is at the same depth as it was in the growing medium before. To double check this, you can always use a yardstick or shovel handle to check the depth.

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9. Backfill the Soil

As you firm the soil in around the roots, hold the plant as straight as you can so when you are finished you don't have tree or shrub that lists to one side. As you are backfilling, use your fingers to work the soil in-between the roots to make sure there are no air pockets.

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10. Settling

If the plant settles below the correct level of the top of the hole, raise the plant up a bit, and re-work the soil around the roots again to settle it in at the correct depth.

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11. Make a Well

When you are finished planting, make a large well around the plant. This holds the water and nutrients in the growing zone for the roots to easily access.

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12. Water In

Always water thoroughly when you are done. Keep in mind the plant is still dormant, so allow the soil to dry out a bit in-between waterings. Bare-root don't need as much moisture when they are dormant as when they are actively growing, but they do need to be watered to keep them alive and healthy.

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13. Clean up the Plant

Look the plant over and if you see any dead wood, or stubs, remove them with clean new cuts. Apply some pruning compound on fresh cuts to keep out insects and disease.

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14. Staking

If you have planted a tree, you may want to stake it. For more tips on staking you can watch a 2-part video:
Our example here doesn't need a stake to keep it upright because it is in a very protected area out of the wind and weather.

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15. Care

Water the bare-root when the top 2 inches of soil dry out. Wait to fertilize until the weather warms up and the buds start to swell with new growth.

When that happens, feed your new trees and shrubs with a complete fertilizer, like a 15-15-15. This helps them as they come out of dormancy and start to actively grow, which takes a lot of energy.

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16. Finished!

Bare-root often out perform container-grown plant material because they have quite a bit of growth on them to start, but also because they are growing in just one type of soil.

A container grown plant has the soil it's been grown in, and then it gets introduced to your type of soil, which can sometimes cause problems.

Bare-root however, are planted, grown, and get established all in your soil, so there is no adjustment period that takes place. Just yet another reason that bare-root plants are so great to put in your yard and garden!

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