Winter is a blustery time, wet and cold to be out in the garden. But it’s also the time to plant bare root plants. Take advantage of the season, and add some to your garden!
What is Bare Root?
Bare root are plants that sound exactly what they are: bare root. They are certain types of plants that are sold without any soil and without a pot. They are dug up from a field when dormant, usually in their 2nd or 3rd year, and then sold.
The Benefits of Bare Root
Bare roots plants are much more inexpensive, usually half the price compared to their potted kind, as there is no soil, pots and they are lighter to ship. You can often find an outstanding variety available, compared to just the one or two types available in a pot.
Planting as bare root often gives the plant more success, compared to out of a pot in in full leaf, as planting when dormant reduces transplant shock. They also have performance than containerized plants, as they haven’t been conditioned to the container soil, and quickly adapt to the native soil.
But despite the benefits of bare root, the window to plant them is short, usually only January or February. Once they start budding out, they need to be planted in soil.
Plants Available as Bare Root
Any plant that goes dormant in winter is a candidate for bare root, and is either sold as just the roots (like asparagus) or as the roots with a stem and small branches (like a fruit tree). The most popular types of plants that you can find as bare root include:
- deciduous fruit trees such apple, peach, plum
- raspberries and blackberries
- artichokes (although, in my area, they never really go dormant, so I have never seen them for sale in this form)
Choosing a Bare Root Variety:
Have a plan (remember our resolutions?!) before going to the nursery or browsing online. It’s super easy to get overwhelmed by the varieties and choices, and if you go without a plan, suddenly you come home with an apple tree, 12 raspberry canes and a bag full of sunchokes and no place to put them (not that I’m speaking from experience, or anything……).
Do your research. If you’re planting fruit trees, you need to first learn how many hours of chill you receive in your area. Most trees require a dormant period of cold to produce fruit, known as ‘chill hours’. If they don’t get enough cold, they won’t produce (or, at least not well). Different trees and different varieties need different chill, so check the tags and descriptions and choose for what works in your garden.
Trees are a long time investment, and some can produce for a hundred years. So also think of your garden’s future chill hours with climate change. The world will likely be warmer. I like to err on the side of caution, and would choose a tree that will still produce in my garden if it gets 50+ less hours of chill.
Also look at the descriptions to know if you need a second tree for pollination, and check what type of root stock they are on. Do you want a dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard tree? If you are planting more than one variety, try to stagger the fruit harvest, so you don’t get inundated with fruit all at one time, then nothing the rest of the year.
How to Plant Bare Root Rose or Fruit Tree:
Before planting your bare root plant, soak the root in a bucket for a few hours. Dig a hole that is a little deeper than the root. Take some of the soil that you dug out to make a cone at the bottom, with the top of the cone almost level with the native soil surface. Place your plant so that when it rests on the cone, the bud union, or where the roots meet the trunk, should be just above the soil level. If you are staking your tree, now is the time to do so. With the roots draped over the sides of the cone, extending down, back fill the hole with soil and water. It can be helpful to have one person hold the plant upright and straight while the other fills.
If your ground is frozen this time of year, or if it’s too wet to work, don’t fear! You can still take advantage of the short bare root season. Buy when available, then keep your plant in a cellar or garage where it’s cold, but not freezing. Cover the roots with sawdust or sand, and keep moist but not wet. As soon as you can work the soil, plant your bare root.
I’m very sad to leave my mini-orchard of fruit trees that I planted as bare root our first year at this homestead. I have clay soil in my Santa Rosa garden, so for better drainage, I planted on mounds. You can read about my trees and the process I used in this post.
Are you planting anything bare root this year? Let me know in the comments!