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What is bare root planting and what are the benefits?

Written by Nicola Wallis

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Posted on 20 December 2021

What are bare root plants?

These are dormant (not actively growing) plants that have been grown in open ground, then dug up and supplied without any soil around their roots. The plants are planted during the dormant season and are usually purchased online or via mail order. When re-planted in the ground the plant will start to grow once again.

What kind of plants are purchased with bare roots?

Lots of plants can be purchased as bare root including the following. 

  • Fruit trees
  • Strawberries
  • Roses
  • Ornamental trees and shrubs
  • Asparagus
  • Perennials

Bare root hedging is the most efficient way of producing a hedge with popular varieties including beech, box, laurel, hornbeam, yew and privet. Bare root trees grow faster than potted as the roots are not acclimatising from potted soil to local soil. To find out more about hedges read out earlier blog How to plant a hedge this Autumn - whatever your garden size  

Why should I buy bare root plants?

As bare root plants are dormant and have no soil around their roots it means they are lightweight, easier, and cheaper to package and ship

meaning you get more for your money. In turn, it also means bare root specimens much easier to move about and plant into position.

In terms of plant health, then a branching, fibrous, bare root tree is far superior to a potted one with circling roots that has been nursed along on irrigation and fertilizer. Bareroot trees can retain a greater portion of their original root system than those potted or dug up with soil intact.

When is the best time to plant bare root trees?

Bare root trees can be planted from November to March when dormant but those planted from November and December will establish better than those plated in March. It is best to plant bare root trees soon after receiving delivery of them. Prior to this they must be kept in a cool, dark place until planting time and before any new growth appears. The plants should get some light but should be protected from the extreme cold. If bare root trees encounter heat and sun, they'll emerge from dormancy, become stressed, and soon die without soil protecting and nourishing their roots. Roots must not be left to dry and if you are unable to plant immediately, they should be kept moist. However cold it gets, never bring bare root plants indoors, or into any other warm environment like a greenhouse. If the ground is too frozen for the plants to go in, it’s going to be cold enough for plants to stay fast asleep in their winter dormancy.

How do I know the plant is alive and healthy?

If you haven’t worked with bare root plants before it can be hard to know if they are alive and healthy when they arrive. There are a few pointers that can give an indication of health including no mould, mildew, or odours. The plant should not be damage and the roots should not be light and dried out. Once planted it should have sprouted new leaves by summer.

How do I plant bare root plants?

Planting a bare root plant isn’t much different to planting any other tree or should. In fact, it is probably easier as bare root plants are much lighter making them easier to handle.

  • Soak the plant in a bucket of water whilst digging the hole which needs to be as deep as the roots and at least twice as wide. 
  • Loosen the sides of the hole with a shovel or spade fork, especially if your soil is heavy clay. Modify the removed soil with up to 20% good quality and well-draining potting mix.
  • In the centre of the hole, form a mound of loose soil, this will give the plant support and a place to spread out its roots. Before placing the plant in the hole, it needs to be watered to help settle the soil.
  • The plant should be placed in the hole with its’ roots gently spread over the mound. When placing the plant into the hole it needs to be positioned so that soil is at the height of where the roots meet the plant’s trunk (the crown). It’s important for the crown to be kept at soil level to avoid rot.Fill the hole with your soil and compost mix, and trample down gently to keep the plant firmly in place, and deeply soak the area with water.
  • After your plant is watered in and settled, you can also build up a ring of soil at the edge of the planting hole to form a saucer, this will help hold surface water in the root zone.
    Mulching with 2-4 inches of compost or soil-building conditioner will also aid in keeping the soil moist and weed-free. It is important to keep the mulch at least several inches away from the crown to prevent rot.

Top tips:

  • Young bare root plants can be easily damaged by fertiliser therefore, it is best to wait at least six weeks before doing so.
  • Bare root plants also benefit from being staked for a year but ensure they are inserted in an undisturbed area around the plant.
  • Never let bare root plants dry out, water them regularly.
  • Mulch the plants with quality bark, straw, or compost.
  • If the ground frozen do not plant bare root plants – they will be better off being left dormant as freezing conditions damage their delicate roots. Broken roots mean that stored energy is lost, and this reduces the plant’s ability to establish which in turn results in poor growth during spring.

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