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Past Articles Library | How To Buy The Best Bare-Root Trees, Shrubs, Roses

How To Buy The Best Bare-Root
Trees, Shrubs and Roses

Be choosy and knowledgeable when shopping to get the best plants

Bare-root season is a pretty short one, and often it passes gardeners by because they don't realize all the benefits of buying and planting bare-root such as:

1. They are 30 to 60 percent less expensive than the same tree, shrub, or rose potted up in a container and sold later on in the year

2. They establish much faster, and grow better

3. There is always an incredible selection of varieties to choose from, much more so than at any other time of the year

4. They are so tough and resilient that they will astound you

With all these benefits it's no wonder why bare-root is so popular and why many nurseries sell out, so don't get left behind.

Now is a good time to be looking for bare-root, because they are typically found during the late winter and early spring seasons, and you can buy them retail in local garden centers, online, or mail-order.

If you choose to buy online or via mail-order make sure you buy from a reputable company that offers reasonable guarantees and money-back offers in case they don't send you quality.

The rest of this article is going to discuss how to buy bare-root at a retail location so you can personally inspect the quality of what you are buying, and keep in mind that it's good to be choosy and knowledgeable when you go shopping, that way you can get a lot for your money.

Selecting and Buying Bare-Root Trees and Shrubs

First, Consider Your Location and Climate

This is usually pretty easy because most garden centers will only carry varieties of trees and shrubs that do well in your area. It benefits them to do so, because if the plants don't do well, neither do they.

That said however, perhaps you want to order or try something new - that's great. But in that case do as much research as you can online, or ask at your local ag bureau, or master gardener group to make sure you know what the plant's needs will be and if you can meet them.

What Plants Are Available in Bare-Root Form?

Well there are too many to list, but here are few:

  • Fruit trees: peaches, nectarines, apples, cherries and nut trees

  • Fruiting vines: grapes and berries

  • Shade trees: ash, birch, maple

  • Ornamental shrubs: roses and forsythia

  • Perennial vegetables: strawberries, artichokes and asparagus

A Few of The Benefits of Buying Bare-Root

  • Bare-root plants are less expensive by as much as 30 to 60 percent!

  • They are very light-weight so you can save on delivery fees

  • Because they are very thin and light, you can fit more in your car

  • There is usually a bigger selection when you buy bare-root because they're easy to ship

  • You can order plants from all over the world in some cases, and you can find species that may not be available other times of the year

  • One of the best advantages, is that you are able to see the roots. You can make sure they're healthy and spread out well to give the plant a good start before you buy

How To Be A Knowledgeable Shopper

When making your purchase, here is how best to choose bare-root trees and shrubs:

  • Look for true bare-root plants. You don't want any packaged bare-root plants. Packaged bare-root trees and shrubs have had their roots either forced to fit inside, or pruned to fit inside the packaging. This means there is a possibility that the roots are damaged

  • Look the plants over very carefully and make sure they're truly dormant, with no new growth. Stay away from any that have already leafed-out

  • The plant's buds should be still dormant, firm, and unwrinkled. It's OK if they are swelling a bit, that shows they are getting ready to come out of dormancy, but you don't want them leafed out as already mentioned

  • The stems and twigs should be strong, healthy, plump, and firm right out to the tip, not dry or shriveled

  • Choose plants with good shape. Look for uniform branching and no crossing or tangled looking branching structures

  • If you do see broken branches or damaged roots, have this damage pruned from the plant. If after doing that the plant still looks unhealthy, ask for a different plant

  • Check the trunk's bark. It should be uniform in color, have no tears, holes, or soft spots, and few to no scars

  • Look for a good root system. If the roots are heeled-in a bulk bin with planting mix or sawdust, ask if you can pull them out to see the roots. You want fresh, firm, and well-formed roots. Avoid any plants that have dry, withered roots or roots that look slimy or soft

  • When you look at the roots, they should be damp, and so should the sawdust or soil that they are in. They shouldn't be moldy or mildewed

  • There should be lots of fine fibrous feeder roots coming off the main root system

  • Bare-root trees are typically very thin looking, but if you notice a difference in the trunk diameters, or caliper, choose the trees with fatter, sturdier trunks

Selecting and Buying Bare-Root Roses

Like bare-root trees and shrubs, bare-root roses very economical. They are less expensive, and they tend to do better in the landscape. Roses in containers often don't get off to as strong a start.

The secret to success with bare-root roses is to start with good shopping and you can apply all of the same criteria used for buying bare-root trees and shrubs mentioned above, but with a few more details.

So when making your purchase, here is how best to choose bare-root roses:

  • Do your homework! With thousands of roses to choose from, think about what you want before you buy anything. Read online, visit or ask someone at your local library, or your local rose or garden club, etc. Find other people's favorite roses and ask why they like them so much. Roses can be a challenge sometimes, so get as much information you can and you will have much more success

  • Since a rose can live for 50 years or more, it's best to buy the best-possible plant you can afford

  • Pay attention to the grading because it's important and the number and health of the canes will help you determine the overall health of the plant

  • Grade 1: Bare-root roses that have three or more healthy canes that are plump, green and moist (not dried out and withered) are the best. Just about all roses sold in reputable garden centers are Grade 1 and will say so somewhere on the label

  • Grade 1 1/2: Bare-root roses that have at least two healthy canes

  • Grade 2: Bare-root roses that only have one cane and sometimes it is very small and scrawny looking

  • Read the tags very carefully. Roses have a lot going on, so get as much information as you can about the size, color, form and especially disease resistance. Often the plant tags don't mention things such as flower fading, lack of scent, or lack of disease resistance, so make sure you ask if it is not on the tag

  • What you might find on a bare-root rose tag:

    • Rambler: This is not the same as a climber. Ramblers are good if you want to cover a hillside or large area. Climbers are good to cover a fence, trellis, or arbor

    • Climber: This is a rose that does not cling and will need to be tied to its supports as it grows

    • Vigorous: Can describe many types of roses such as: hybrid teas, floribundas, and climbers. Vigorous can sometimes mean frequent pruning, so if you're not sure ask

    • Mild or light scent or fragrance: This can often mean that there is no scent at all, once again, if you're not sure, ask someone

    • Fewer thorns: Unless the tag mentions no or fewer thorns, expect a lot of thorns! The old varieties and antique roses, especially so

    • Miniature: This often refers to the size of the flower, but it can also be the size of the plant

    • Hardiness: This is the rose's ability to tolerate extremely cold weather

    • AARS: This means that the rose has won a prize from the All American Rose Selection and can refers to outstanding qualities for: color, disease resistance, vigor, growth habit and fragrance as compared with other roses introduced that year

  • A Few More Tips To Keep In Mind:

  • Color: Roses come just about every color you can imagine, so consider colors that are suitable for your home or garden

  • Form: Roses come every shape and size. Some are good to cover an arbor, some are good for a ground cover, others look best in a rose garden setting, or in container. Keep in mind how to best use a rose's form for your landscape situation

  • Scent or Fragrance: If you like to cut your roses to bring indoors, you'll want a fragrant variety because some can literally scent your entire house. They are great!

  • Maintenance: Some of the newer varieties can to be easier to keep up, but if you like a challenge, try some of the old-fashioned roses because they might be more susceptible to fungi, or need more pruning, they can have fantastic flowers and almost pure perfume fragrances. It's up to you how much you can handle and will have time for

  • Site: What kind of conditions does your yard have? Some roses can take the shade, but most roses will want all the sunshine you can give them. Keep in mind what areas in your garden or landscape lend themselves best to roses


With the above lists you now have the ability, and the knowledge, to buy top-quality plants at great prices, and to avoid garden centers that may not be offering you the best plant material.

You will be very pleased with what you buy, and they will thrive for years in your garden.

The next step of course is to plant and maintain your purchases, and it's always best to plant bare-root out as soon as possible.

With that in mind, our other stories listed below may be of interest to you. Till next time!

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The writer is a member of the National Garden Writers Association, a nationally published writer, and a certified organic grower. She regularly speaks and writes about all gardening related topics, with an emphasis on making gardening a successful and enjoyable process for anyone who wants to learn. Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine concentrates of giving detailed gardening tips and gardening advice to all levels of gardeners.

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