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Gardening 101: How To Plant Bare Roots

Bare Roots Before Planted

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.

To the left, in the green patch, is where we\'re going to prepare for planting.

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.

Matt breaking up the soil with a broadfork

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!

Matt bringing in mushroom compost

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.

Me breaking up the soil and 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.

Compressing the side of the raised bed in liu of a wooden frame

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.

The finished raised bed

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.

Bare root raspberries

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.

Burying the roots, bit by bit, as I hold the plant in place with the other hand

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.

Bud union - do not cover in soil!

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.

Bare roots planted and mulched, careful to avoid mulching at the base of the plant

I spaced each plant about 2 feet apart. Then I applied a straw mulch, carefully avoiding the trunk.

The finished raised bed of raspberries and currants

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:

  1. Instead of digging a raised bed, you want to dig a circle a little wider than the width the roots naturally lay.

  2. Amend the soil and build a mound that rises about a foot above the flat ground.

  3. Spread the roots atop the mound as evenly as you can while not forcing roots into a shape they don’t easily conform to.

  4. Cover the roots to just below the bud union (see photo with arrow showing this above).

  5. 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.

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6 comments to Gardening 101: How To Plant Bare Roots

  • monica

    Thank you for for more instructions on our next project! This one is definitely for the bookmarks, too! How many do you suggest to plant?

    Do you have some recipes for canning jams and jelly using currants, too?

  • Rob

    Great info since my new trees I just ordered are bareroot. Thanks!

  • Now, this post is where the rubber meets the road. Reads like OG or TMEN in their glory days!

  • Fantastic resource for people, I wish I had these pictures when I planted the Pawpaw and Kiwi last year.

  • You’re welcome, all – Kory, guess you’ll just have to plant some more trees. ; ) Risa B, Boy do I wish I could write posts like these every day… but alas, not enough time in the day. : ( So you get em every once in a while! Rob, have fun!

    Monica, Ball Blue Book of Preserving is my handy-dandy guide to canning. They have a very simple recipe for Raspberry-Current Jam: Cook 2 C currants until soft, adding about 1/4 C water (enough to prevent sticking). Press through a sieve. Combine this pulp with 2 C raspberries in a sauce pot. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Cook rapidly to the gelling point, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4″ head space. Process 15 min. in boiling-water canner.

    As far as how many to plant… First off, you shouldn’t allow the plants to fruit the first year they’re planted. In the 2nd year you can harvest a light crop; in the 3rd year you’ll have a full harvest. From what I’ve read each currant plant produces around 2-3 pounds of fruit per year.

  • Steve

    I see lots of instructions on planting but none on watering. When I plant the bareroot raspberries (lets say the hole is 14 inches deep and 1 foot wide) and I add all the amendments to my soil such as mulch and all would I want to water the freshly planted bareroots daily, every other day, weekly etc.

    Also, the weather is usually around 75 degrees as a high where I live right now and I have no problem hand watering them. So do I give them a cup of water a day, two cups of water a day, 1 gallon every week or what? Please help me because I am getting no assistance with any of the nurseries in my area

    Thank you

    Steve Kaderli

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