Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2000
Regional Report

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Many types of plants are available for bare-root planting.

Bare-Root Planting

Winter is the season for bare-root planting. Bare-root is a term used for deciduous plants including shrubs, trees, roses, and many types of vegetables, that are dug from the ground when dormant and packaged for sale. Bare-root specimens have roots, which have been severely pruned, as have their branches or trunk. Plants are wrapped in moss or damp paper and then packaged in plastic to prevent the roots from drying out before they're sold.

Why Buy Bare-Root Plants?

There are several reasons to plant from bare-root stock. The first is economic: Bare-root plants cost less than container plants. The shipping costs are reduced for the grower because bare-root plants lack the added weight of soil and container. Another reason to plant from bare- rootstock is that the plants adapt easily to your native soil, avoiding transplant shock. Also, the selection of bare-root plants is much greater than that of container plants. Nurseries can carry a wider selection of stock because plants don't take up as much floor space as their potted counterparts.

Specialty Plants

Check with on-line nurseries for specialty plants such as Japanese maples (Acer japonica). Some specialty plants can be purchased only as bare-root due to limited quantities and availability.

I like combination trees made up from specimens of the same variety, commonly known as "fruit cocktail trees." For example, you can purchase a bare-root plum tree that has been grafted with a nectarine, an apricot, and a cherry. The only problem with these trees is aesthetic. The grafted branches grow at different rates, creating a not-so-handsome landscape tree.

Bare-Root Planting

If you can't plant a bare-root tree immediately, heel it into the ground to prevent the roots from drying out. Heeling means temporarily planting the tree by covering the roots with damp sawdust or soil.

To plant a bare-root shrub or tree, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots when they are spread out. Usually a 2-foot-diameter hole is large enough for a rose bush, while a 3-foot-diameter hole is a good size for a fruit tree. The hole doesn't have to be deep, only 1 to 2 feet is fine, because you don't want to bury the crown of the plant (the point where the roots meet the stem).

Build a firm cone of soil in the bottom of the hole, then spread the roots over the cone. The cone of soil will support the plant in the hole. If any roots are too long to fit comfortably inside the hole, cut them back with sharp shears.

Final Placement

Adjust the plant so that the bud union (the bulge in the stem where the desired variety was grafted onto the rootstock) or crown is just above the surface of the soil. If the bud union is buried, you may get sucker growth from the rootstock coming up from below the graft.

Backfill the hole, pressing the soil into place with the handle end of the shovel. By using the handle of the shovel instead of the blade to firm the soil around the roots, you eliminate the chance of cutting through or damaging the roots with the blade. After filling the hole with soil, slowly water the plant, soaking it well, then add more soil if necessary to bring the level of soil to the proper level. No fertilizer is necessary until new growth begins in the spring.

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