Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2008
Regional Report

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I can't wait to bite into these luscious berries!

Choosing Top-Notch Bare-Root Plants

During the months of January and February, garden centers begin offering bare-root plants for sale. These are simply dormant perennials, sold without any soil surrounding their roots. This makes them easier to handle and less expensive to ship, which generally means lower prices for consumers. Instead of soil, the roots are wrapped in damp sphagnum moss or sawdust to keep them moist. All types of plants -- from roses to fruit trees, cane fruits to asparagus -- are sold as bare-root plants.

It's hard to judge quality when looking at bare-root plants. Because they're dormant, they look like sticks with some roots attached. Without any green leaves to indicate health and vigor, it can be confusing to know which to choose. I follow a few guidelines to ensure that I'm buying the best the nursery has to offer.

Get Them While They're Fresh
I always try to purchase bare-root plants as soon as they arrive at the garden center. The longer they sit on a shelf, the more potential there is for damage. It's also a good idea to purchase bare-root plants from an outdoor display area. If they're stored and displayed indoors, warm temperatures can cause the plants to prematurely break dormancy.

The next step is to pick up a few packages and compare their weight. Bare-root plants are packed with barely moist media around their roots to keep them from drying out during shipping. A package that seems especially light or one that is heavier than the others could indicate problems.

Finally, avoid plants that are budding or leafing out. If they develop new growth before being planted, they'll have trouble adjusting after being set out in the garden.

Plant as Soon as Possible
Once you've purchased your bare-root plants, protect them from heat and exposure to sunshine, and plant them as soon as possible. It's important to get them into the ground before the roots dry out or the growth cycle begins.

Strawberries Rule!
It's time for us to renew our strawberry bed so at the moment I'm focusing on bare-root strawberry plants. There are so many varieties to choose from! I like eating fresh berries, but if I have enough ripe berries all at once, I'll freeze them or make preserves. So, in choosing strawberry plants, my first consideration is great taste, followed by ripening time.

Strawberry hybrids fall into two basic classes: June-bearing (also called spring-bearing) and everbearing (day neutral). June-bearing plants produce a large concentrated crop in late spring. These types produce the most berries per plant, and the majority of the crop ripens over a three-week period. They are wonderful for fresh eating and the best choice for canning or freezing.

Everbearing strawberry plants produce fruit throughout most of the growing season, but the greatest yield is in the spring or fall. I rely on these plants for occasional fresh berries because they never produce enough at any one time for making into preserves. Obviously, the more plants you have, the more berries you can harvest, so if you've got the room, you can plant everbearing strawberries as a ground cover and reap the rewards all season long.

Maritime Favorites
Whether you plan to eat them fresh or preserve the bounty, the very best performers in Northwest gardens include the June-bearing 'Totem', 'Benton', and 'Shuksan'; and the everbearing 'Tribute', 'Tri Star', and 'Puget Summer'.

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