- Author: Ed Perry
For gardeners the coming of winter means, among many other things, the beginning of the bare root planting season. Local nurseries will soon receive good supplies of bare root fruit and ornamental trees, roses, grapes, berries, and vegetables such as asparagus and rhubarb. Unlike container plants, bare root plants are dug from the field when dormant and separated from the soil. This allows the nursery grower to ship plants at a lower cost and means a good saving for the buyer.
Since all the soil has been removed from the roots, take care to prevent them from drying out while you transport the tree or dig the planting hole. Never allow the plant roots to be exposed to sun and wind for more than just a few minutes. You can protect the roots for a few hours by placing them in a moist plastic bag or by covering them with wet newspaper or cloth. It's best to plant and water your bare root trees right away. If you need to delay planting for a day or more, you should “heel in” the plants. “Heeling in” is a method of protecting plant roots by placing the plants into a hole or shallow trench and covering the roots with moist soil, sand or sawdust.
You should consider trees, shrubs and other perennial plants to be long term investments. It's therefore worth the effort to pick the proper place for the plant. Fruit trees especially need full sun to produce properly, as well as room to grow. Most standard fruit trees can be planted 10 to 15 feet apart, or much closer if you are willing to spend time doing heavy pruning and careful training each year. Semi-dwarf fruit trees are good choices for a garden with limited space. It is not a good idea to plant a fruit tree in a lawn area, as the lawn's water requirements are not compatible with those of the tree. Fruit trees growing in lawns often grow poorly or are killed by shallow, frequent lawn irrigation.
Fruit trees prefer well drained soils at least 3 or 4 feet deep but will grow in shallower soils if you water carefully. Plant your tree when the soil is moist enough to dig easily. Do not plant in wet, sticky soil. The planting hole should be 2 to 3 times wider than the root spread, but only deep enough to plant the tree at the same level as it grew in the nursery. A tree planted in a deep hole will settle too much after watering. When this happens the tree is often attacked by a soil borne fungus disease where the soil contacts the trunk.
Before you plant the tree, carefully cut off broken or badly damaged roots with sharp pruning shears. Do not prune the roots to fit the hole. If necessary, put soil in the bottom of the hole so that the tree is slightly higher than the soil line. This will allow the tree to settle slightly without becoming buried. Using the same soil that came out of the hole, carefully cover the roots completely, then water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots. You may want to complete the planting job by placing a mulch on the ground around the tree to help control weeds and conserve moisture.
For more information on care of your newly planted bare root fruit trees, berries, grapes, and roses, visit The California Backyard Orchard.