The Q&A Archives: Are bare-rooted plants as good as potted plants?

Question: I'm leery of buying bare root shrubs through the mail. Is the quality of bare rooted plants comparable to potted plants bought at a nursery? How long will they last before planting? Joseph Engels Gravois Mills, MO

Answer: Bare rooted plants shipped through the mail are just as likely to survive as potted plants bought in a nursery, says Chris Starbuck, woody ornamental specialist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. In fact, given the choice between a bare rooted plant and the same plant that's been potted and has sat in a nursery for a few months, I'd choose the bare rooted one, he notes. It's less expensive, and if handled properly, produces larger, healthier root systems. Although bare rooted plants can last up to two weeks in transit, try to plant them soon after their arrival. Before planting, soak the roots in water for no longer than 12 hours. That step helps to rehydrate the plant without suffocating its roots. If immediate planting is impossible, keep the roots moist at all times. Dig a shallow trench in a cool, shady place. Set the roots into it and cover them well with moist peat moss or loamy soil. If you need to wait longer than a month, put the plant in a pot with a good soilless mix and keep it well watered.

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