Bare Root Planting

Overview

Trees, shrubs, roses and perennials are all available in bare-root form and provide another means of planting, which is often overlooked. As long as the roots are firm and healthy, bare-root plants establish easily, often better than those in containers because the gardener can mitigate any root problems without the soil getting in the way. Nurseries that sell bare-root plants dig them out of the field, shake the soil from the roots, and wrap them in damp newspaper or peat moss. The next step is to wrap the plants in plastic bags and place in cardboard boxes for shipping. Mail-order nurseries are the main purveyors of plants in bare-root form, but local garden centers may offer bare-root roses, perennials, fruit and shrubs such as forsythia.

Trees and Shrubs

Step 1

Take your tree or shrub from its packaging and unwrap the plastic. Remove the peat moss or other packing material from around the roots. Lee Reich, writing for Fine Gardening online, recommends setting the plant in a large bucket filled with water for 8 hours before planting if the roots are dry.

Step 2

Dig the hole for your tree or shrub in a site you've chosen that matches the individual plant's cultural requirements. Dig the hole two to three times as wide as the spread of the roots and deep enough to accommodate the plant's roots so that it stands a little higher than it was at the nursery. The hole should start out wide at the top and gradually narrow in a cone shape.

Step 3

Examine the root system and prune off the deformed, broken or diseased roots.

Step 4

Place some of the existing soil in a mound in the hole. Place the tree or shrub in the hole and spread the roots over the mound of soil. Adjust the plant so that crown--the area just above where the roots begin--will be even with the surface of the soil.

Step 5

Add a shovelful of soil around the roots to steady the plant, then backfill approximately one-third of the way to the top of the hole, Soak the soil with water and let it drain. The water accomplishes the tamping down of the soil without damaging the roots, according to Daryl Byers, assistant editor of "Fine Gardening" magazine. Continue backfilling another third of the way and water again.

Step 6

Backfill to the top of the hole and create a berm that encircles the plant. The berm will hold the water in to allow it to drain in the soil over the roots. Soak the plant and let it drain. Water the plant a second time, After the water has drained, add the mulch. Reich recommends using 3 inches of straw or pine mulch to preserve moisture and to keep the soil temperatures steady.

Step 7

Water once a week if the weather has been dry. Slowly pour 2 to 3 gallons of water at the base of the plant, allow time for drainage before adding another 2 gallons. Larger trees will require more moisture. Stake any trees that are taller than 3 feet or are in exposed areas.

Roses

Step 1

Take your bare-root rose out of its cardboard box or other packaging. Place the roots in the bucket of water before planting.

Step 2

Choose a site that has 6 or more hours of sun a day. Dig a hole approximately 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep.

Step 3

Add a couple of shovelfuls of the planting mix into the hole and mix in a shovelful of the existing soil and mix well. Make a mound of the mixture.

Step 4

Place the roots of the rose on the mound of soil. Make sure that the graft or bud union of the rose is at the right height in the hole. The bud union is the thick area at the base of the stem where the rose is grafted on to a hardier rootstock. If you live in a warm climate, position the bud union where the soil level will be. In cold climates, plant the bud union 1 to 2 inches below the soil level.

Step 5

Backfill with the soil around the roots, gently working the soil between the roots so as not to trap air. Gently tamp the soil down and add more soil until the hole is 3/4 full. Fill the hole with water and allow it to drain. Backfill with the soil to the ground level. The All-America Rose Selection, an organization that tests varieties of roses in trial gardens, recommends mounding the soil 6 inches up around the canes until the rose leafs out.

Step 6

Remove the mound of soil and make sure the bud union is at the correct level. Water once a week with 2-3 gallons poured slowly at the base of the plant.

Perennials

Step 1

Take your bare-root perennial from the bag it came in. Shake off the material it was packed in and soak in water for 10 minutes.

Step 2

Dig a hole in a site that provides the light exposure that matches the requirements of your particular perennial. The hole should be slightly wider than the spread of the roots and an inch or so deeper than the root depth. Mound two to three handfuls of planting mix that has been combined with the existing soil in the bottom of the hole.

Step 3

Prune off any damaged or diseased roots. Place the plant in the hole so that the roots are spread out over the mound. Backfill with the soil and tamp down gently as you backfill. The crown of the plant should be at the level of the surrounding soil when you have finished.

Step 4

Soak the plant, let the water drain and repeat. Water the plant in the same manner for the first three days, then once a week if the weather is dry.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not plant your bare-root plants too deep as this causes rot. If your bare-root plant arrives with black and rotted roots in more than an occasional piece, contact the company from which you purchased the plant.

Things You'll Need

  • Bare-root plant of your choice
  • Shovel
  • Garden pruners
  • Scissors or sharp knife
  • Large plastic bucket
  • Pine mulch or straw
  • Tree stakes and rope
  • Planting mix

References

  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Planting Bare Root Plants
  • Fine Gardening: Planting Bareroot Trees
  • Fine Gardening: Planting Ornamentals (Bare Root)
  • All-America Rose Selections: Bare Root Roses
  • University of Missouri Extension: Planting Bare Root Perennials

Who Can Help

  • Penn State University Extension: Handling and Planting "Bare Root" Plants
  • University of California-Davis Extension: Planting Bare Root Plants
Keywords: bare root planting, planting bare root, bare root trees, bare root shrubs, bare root roses, bare root perennials

About this Author

Janet Belding has been writing for 22 years. She has had nonfiction pieces published in "The Boston Globe," "The Cape Cod Times," and other local publications. She is a writer for the guidebook "Cape Cod Pride Pages." Her fiction has been published in "Glimmer Train Stories." She has a degree in English from the University of Vermont.