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How to Heel in Plants for the Winter

By April Sanders ; Updated September 21, 2017

Early winter or late fall is a great time to score some bargains on plants such as bare root roses, trees and shrubs. The timing might not be right for you to plant them, however. If that is the case, you can heel in your bare root plants for the winter and plant them in early spring, when the soil warms up. The expression "heel in" means to cover the plants up in a blanket of soil until you can plant them in their permanent locations. Container plants can also be heeled in for the winter, but be sure to remove them from the container first, as they can become root-bound.

Unwrap the roots of the plant, or remove the plant from the container, shaking off excess dirt. Soak the roots of the plant in water for between four and seven hours.

Dig a trench near the foundation of your house or another protected location. Loosen the soil down to about 6 inches. This will help keep the plants warm in cold winds. Make the trench long and wide enough to hold all the roots of your plants without bending the roots.

Angle the plants into the trench, with the roots fully inside the trench and the top of the plant fully on the outside. The canopy of the plant can and probably will be touching the ground. Set the plants in the trench about 6 inches apart.

Backfill the trench, then cover it with a thick (at least 2 inches) layer of mulch. Water the trench and try to keep it moist, but not soggy or frozen.


Things You Will Need

  • Shovel
  • Mulch
  • Watering tool


  • Plants with root balls (from containers) will easily over-winter when heeled in. Bare root plants will last at least eight weeks, but might start to decline after that time.