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What to do with bare root plants when they arrive

What to do with bare root plants when they arrive

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Four bare root magnolia trees

Bare root trees arrive in a dormant state and resemble ‘sticks’ 
Image: Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird’ from Thompson & Morgan

Bare root plants are sold between November and March, while in a dormant state, and delivered in special packaging without any soil. They are economical to buy and, if you’re planning a new hedge, they’re a very affordable way to get it going. Aside from hedging, our most popular bare root plants include specimen trees, fruit trees, shrubs, roses and even some perennials. Although they might look like ‘dead sticks’ when they arrive, they’re very much alive! Here are some top tips from our horticultural team to help you get your bare roots off to a flying start this winter.

Browse our full collection of bare root trees and plants here.

What are the advantages of buying bare root plants?

Yellow and green leaves with white flowers

Bare root hedging plants like Golden Privet are an affordable way to create a new hedge
Image: Golden Privet from T&M

One of the main advantages of buying bare root plants is the reduced cost. Not requiring a container or soil keeps the size and weight down, reducing both the production and transportation costs.

Many gardeners also choose bare root plants because they establish themselves very quickly, and are less likely to fail than those in full bloom. Planting while dormant means they rarely succumb to transplant shock and they have plenty of time to establish themselves over the winter ready to burst into growth as soon as the weather warms up next spring. Bare root plants also require less watering than those planted in the summer months, making them easier to look after.

Also Read:   How To Protect Container Plants In Winter

How are bare root plants and trees shipped?

Two different types of bare root plant

Bare root plants can look a bit like dead twigs when they arrive
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Bare root plants are sold with their roots exposed, rather than being supplied in a pot of soil. Only plants that have a period of dormancy in the winter can be supplied this way, meaning that evergreens aren’t suitable candidates.

Bare root plants and trees are grown in the ground where they have access to the full range of nutrients in the soil. When winter arrives and they enter their dormant period, they are carefully dug up and prepared for shipping.

It’s important to keep bare roots moist during their dormancy, especially as they’re exposed. This is why they’re shipped in a plastic bag, and some larger roots are even wrapped in damp hessian.

What to do when you receive your bare root shrub or tree

You should plant your bare roots as soon as possible after they arrive. If the ground is frozen or waterlogged, temporarily heel them in somewhere to protect the exposed roots and keep them moist. Although they look like dead twigs, they’re just sleeping and the roots should not be allowed to dry out. Watch our expert video on how to plant bare root shrubs and trees for helpful advice, and follow these quick tips:

  • Before planting, soak your bare roots in a bucket of water for about an hour. Rain water is ideal.
  • Check your plants carefully for damage. If you need to remove any dead material, make clean cuts to help the plant recover quickly and fight off possible fungal infections.
  • Prepare the ground by digging a hole that is deep and wide enough to accommodate the roots. Add some compost if your soil is poor.
  • Don’t bury the plant deeper than it was originally grown. If you’re planting a grafted fruit tree, keep the graft above the soil line.
  • Add a stake if required, before back-filling the hole.
  • Water your plant in, using the bucket of recycled rainwater in which you soaked the roots.
Also Read:   Can You Save a Houseplant from Winter Frost? Generally, Sure.

Video guide to planting bare root perennials

If you’re growing bare root perennials or iris rhizomes, you may want to plant them into a pot for a short while and grow them on in a cold frame, greenhouse or sheltered spot outside. Watch Sue Sanderson’s helpful video for some quick tips.

Bare root plants are an easy and cost-effective way to fill your garden. What’s more, they’re a great way to keep gardening through the colder winter months when there are fewer tasks to do. Want to know what else is despatching this week? Keep an eye on the list of plants that are ready to send out in the next seven days. 

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