Planting bare roots is one of the many gardening techniques that seem scary and very difficult when you first begin, but then become so easy you have no idea why you hadn’t done it before! Seriously, it is actually easier than planting a potted plant.
Why To Plant Bare Roots
There are several advantages to planting bare roots, including:
- The tree or bush doesn’t go into shock because it’s dormant during the winter.
- It’s cheaper to buy bare roots than to buy potted plants.
- There are more varieties of different plants to chose from.
- The shipping costs (to your budget and the environment) are significantly lower.
When To Plant Bare Roots
Late fall and winter are the times to plant bare roots. You can often find roots at your favorite seed company or your local nursery, though there are also online nurseries that sell only fruit trees.
Make sure to get them in the ground soon after they arrive home, or temporarily heel them in (ie, bury the roots in soil outside until you can properly plant them). Whichever you do, make sure the roots stay moist. You’ll want to plant them while they are still dormant, but when the ground is workable (ie, not frozen and not overly soggy).
How To Plant Bare Roots
The following is how we planted our raspberry, fig, and currant bare roots in Geyserville last year.
You can see by this first picture above that we started with a mess. To the right are beds soon to come, in the middle (already mulched) are garlic just peeking out, and the area just to the left of that is full of weeds. That’s where we’ll be preparing a bed for our raspberries and currants.
First Matt used the broadfork to break up the clay soil. Developed by Eliot Coleman, we’ve found the broadfork to be perfect for such tasks, as it digs deep with its 5 tines. Unfortunately (or fortunately?!) I’m not quite heavy enough to use it very well – but Matt is able to use it quite well!
Once we broke up the soil, I dug a 6″ moat around the bed (this is called a berm), while Matt heaped in a wheelbarrow and a half of aged mushroom compost.
I used the curved tine cultivator to mix in the compost and shape the bed, breaking up some of the clumps and removing the rocks by hand.
Once I got the bed relatively formed, I did something highly technical (not really!). Since we don’t build wooden structures for our beds (don’t need them and can’t afford them), I compressed the side of the bed with my foot so it will hold its shape. Simple as that. The mulch also helps to hold the bed in place, and the height – and moat – allow for enough drainage that the bed remains together.
I did a final rake across the top to even out the bed, and broke up a few last clods with my hands. And voila – the bed is made.
We went for a much narrower bed than our others – the final bed is about 1.5′ wide by 16′ long. What you see in this picture is about half – after lunch we made the bed twice as long.
Above is how the raspberries looked when they arrived via mail. (The flakey stuff is just wood shavings used as packing material.)
I gently untwined the roots and spread them out.
Then I dug a hole a little wider than the width the roots naturally lay, and slightly deeper than the depth of the longest root. I just did the digging with my bare hands, because we found that there were many worms – red worms and earth worms – in the soil. So I wanted to make sure we preserved our precious worms by only gently digging.
I then held the plant in place with one hand while I gently filled in the soil around the roots with the other, spreading the roots slightly as I went. Raspberries grow shoots along their horizontal roots, so keep this in mind. I also made sure there were no air pockets where the soil didn’t reach.
Important: make sure you do not cover the first bud union. You can see those in the picture above, near the soil – there are 3 of them on this currant plant. If you’ve planted too deep, you can gently pull the tree up to the desired height.
I spaced each plant about 2 feet apart. Then I applied a straw mulch, carefully avoiding the trunk.
So here we have a bed of 5 Willamette Red Raspberries and 2 Dark Red Wilder Currants!
Specifics For Planting Bare Root Trees
Planting Bare Root Trees is very similar to planting berry brambles. Here are the steps:
- Instead of digging a raised bed, you want to dig a circle a little wider than the width the roots naturally lay.
- Amend the soil and build a mound that rises about a foot above the flat ground.
- Spread the roots atop the mound as evenly as you can while not forcing roots into a shape they don’t easily conform to.
- Cover the roots to just below the bud union (see photo with arrow showing this above).
- And dig a berm (ie, moat) around the outside of the mound, so that water will drain away from the base of the trunk.
One final note: when watering trees, brambles and bushes, water the entire width of the area where you planted the roots, and be sure to avoid the base of the trunk itself.