Garden catalogs are arriving daily and the mail person must think I’m nuts. The robins have arrived, cleaning the last of the berries off my Hawthorne tree. Those things tell me that spring can’t be far away. Nurseries are gearing up, plants are starting to arrive and before we know it, something we can’t resist planting will beg to be taken home.
Some of the first plants to arrive will be bare root. Roses, fruit trees, asparagus and rhubarb are some that will show up this way. These plants will have their roots packaged in a dampened material to keep the roots from drying out. Attention!!! The roots cannot be allowed to dry out! Because bare root plants are dug and sold without ever having their roots contained, they transplant easily and with a high rate of success.
Cost wise, bare root plants are usually a great bargain because growers don’t have to contend with pruning roots, planting into containers or deal with watering and transporting of larger plants.
Because there isn’t any soil around the root system of bare root trees, any roots that are broken, kinked or damaged can be removed. There is no problem with two different types of soil having to interface. Having no soil around the roots ensure that you can easily plant the tree at the correct depth. This is probably the most important step in planting any tree. The correct depth is making sure the root flare is at, or slightly above, ground level (the root flare is where the trunk starts to flare out into a root). Trees don’t grow straight out of the ground like telephone poles! Find the root flare! And finally, with no soil confining the roots, you can make sure that the root system is well spread out when planting.
The hole you dig for your tree should be much more wide than deep. Forming a cone in the middle of the hole and setting the plant atop the cone, with the roots draping down the sides, ensures that there won’t be any air pockets underneath the root system. The roots should be spread without being bent or circled around. Water thoroughly to settle the soil. More than likely, the root system won’t be large enough to support the top part of the tree and it will need to be staked. Pound a stake on either side of the tree, outside the root system. Use canvas strapping or flexible tree ties to support the tree. A wide flexible material is very tree friendly. Place the tie as low on the trunk as possible to offer support. The tie should be loose enough for the tree to sway. This will encourage a much stronger trunk and root system. It allows the tree to develop wood that resists snapping in storms. Stakes should be removed after one year.
Keep the root system moist, not soggy, and your plants should take off and grow.