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You are here: Home ›› Learn ›› Resources ›› Garden Almanac ›› February ›› Planting Bare Root Trees & Shrubs

Planting Bare Root Trees & Shrubs

Find out about planting bare root trees and shrubs.

You’ve been to the Seattle Tilth spring plant sale and returned home with an assortment of bare root fruiting plants that you are eager to get into your garden. Now what?

A. If you cannot plant your trees and shrubs the same day you purchased them you MUST protect them from the elements. Cover the roots with moist sawdust or other mulch and store the plants in an area protected from heat or wind. An area tucked up under the eaves of the house will work. Do not leave them unplanted for more than a few days.

B. Spread the root system of each plant out before you dig to estimate how deep and wide the planting hole needs to be. The hole should be twice as wide as the roots (in all directions) and no deeper than the distance from the bottom of the root flare on the trunk of the plant to the lowest roots. Build a mound in the middle of the planting hole to lay the roots around and to avoid a large air space under the plant when backfilling with soil.

Trunk Flare for Bare Root Planting

(illustration courtesy of TCIA http://www.treecareindustry.org)

C. Avoid adding amendments at this point unless you have amended the entire planting bed where you are planting. Trees and shrubs grow better when they are allowed to adapt to native soils and not grown in “pockets” of amended soils.

D. Place the plant on top of the mound and arrange the roots in the planting hole. Keeping the plant aligned properly, backfill the hole with soil and tamp as you go. Use a gloved hand with your fingers splayed to push the soil vertically into the hole. DO NOT stomp on the soil to firm it up! Sometimes this is best done as a two person job. Fill the hole up as high as the bottom of the identified trunk flare and firm the surface.

E. Stake young fruit trees only if they are subject to windy conditions. Stake loosely; studies have shown that trunk movement of a young tree stimulates growth of the trunk and results in a sturdier tree. However, too much movement of the root system when young causes a less developed root system and thus a more poorly anchored tree. Do not use tie materials like wire around the trunk which will girdle it (cut into the bark around the tree); tie in a figure eight loop. Horticultural plastic tie work well. Place the ties about 2/3 of the way up the trunk from the ground. Use any rigid stake material such as rebar and wood to attach the ties to. Do not leave the stakes in place for longer than a year and always check the contact point of the ties on the trunk to make sure they are not beginning to girdle the tree.

F. Water your plant. Let the water soak in slowly and thoroughly. Some people water the planting hole before planting but when you are trying to keep a mound in place for bare root it is better to wait to water after planting to keep the soil mound intact.

G. Mulch the soil surface around your plant to protect the roots from temperature changes, keep moisture in the soil and keep weeds down. Wood chips are a great choice as they provide nutrition for the soil as they decompose and allow air and water to get to the roots easily.

H. Stand back and admire your work! Envision the mature plant bearing delicious summer fruit for you and your family!

Contact our Garden Hotline for more information or to get custom answers to your specific questions, (206) 633-0224. Get more information on organic gardening topics in Seattle Tilth's "Maritime NW Garden Guide" or ”Your Farm in the City.” Check out our list of classes.

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