The Bare Necessities: Everything You Need To Know About Bare-Root Plants

Imagine stepping out into your garden to harvest nectarines from a tree heavy with ripe fruit or waking up to see clouds of soft pink blossoms on a line of dwarf flowering cherries. February is definitely a time for dreaming about the beauty and abundance of the PNW garden. It’s also the perfect time to make your garden fantasies a reality.

February is “bare-root” season at Swansons and that means we have our most extensive selection of fruit trees and berries right now, lots of varieties that won’t be available later in the year. It also means that these “bare-root” trees and shrubs are available at a great discount during our Early Spring Sale (February 5-March 7, 2021)!

But what is “bare root” exactly and why can we offer it at such a good price? Read on to discover everything you need to know.

What is Bare Root?

Let’s get down to the root of the issue – pun intended 😉
Bare root means that the plant has not been potted; instead, plants are harvested from their growing beds in the fall and the soil is removed from their roots. They are then bundled and kept dormant in cool warehouses until they are ready to be shipped to us beginning in late January. When they arrive at the nursery, we don’t pot them but instead, we cover the roots in sawdust to prevent them from drying out.

Bare-root plants are ready to be planted immediately into the garden or into a permanent container while they are still dormant.

Why Bare Root?

They may look kind of funny now, but there are many advantages to choosing bare root.

Optimal Growth. Bare-root plants can more quickly acclimate to new soil conditions when planted and get a vigorous head start on growing. The roots are placed directly in contact with native soil upon planting and that means the plant can start building a strong root system right away before they have to deal with producing leaves and flowers.

Amazing Selection. Our selection – especially of fruit – is at its very best for the entire year. Do you dream of planting an Asian pear tree? Grapes? Currants? Blueberries? All of the above? We now have plants and varieties that may not be available at other times.

Great Value. Many of the trees and shrubs available in bare-root form are already good-sized plants. Because they can be efficiently harvested, stored, and shipped, we are able to offer them at great savings. Buying bare root is extremely advantageous whether you need a large number of plants for a big landscaping project or just a few plants for your garden.

Fruit Trees & Berries in Abundance

This is the time to find espaliered fruit trees, those lovely tiered trees that look so charming growing along a fence or garden wall. Most of our espaliered trees have between two and four different varieties of fruit grafted onto each tree. For example, an apple tree might include ‘Jonagold’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Yellow Delicious’, and ‘Gravenstein’.

These fruit combos are also available in non-espaliered trees. Try a semi-dwarf combination plum with four varieties that ripen at different times for a long-season harvest! Since many fruit trees require a different variety planted nearby to pollinate and espaliered and combo trees already have different varieties grafted onto them, you don’t need to plant more than one tree!

We are especially excited to offer a few truly unique specimens, such as ‘Fruit Cocktail’ and ‘Fruit Salad’ trees. These trees have a mix of different fruits grafted onto one tree! Seriously. Quite the conversation sparker, don’t you think?

And if space is at a premium, choose a columnar fruit tree, specially bred to grow in an upright column providing high yields of fruit without a lot of branch width.

Beyond fruit trees, you will find all kinds of berries: blueberries, raspberries, currants, marionberries, and more. Learn more about growing fruits and berries here.

How Do I Plant Bare Root?

Planting bare root is no more difficult than planting any tree or shrub. Until you are ready to plant, keep the roots of your plants covered in moist sawdust. We bag bare-root plants up for you in plastic when you purchase them, so you can leave them in the bag or, if you are planting the next day, remove the plant and soak it in a bucket of water overnight.

Bare-root plants are dormant and can handle being outside in freezing temperatures, but be sure to defrost the sawdust before trying to remove it from the roots to avoid breakage. You can also prune out any damaged roots before planting.

Really, you can summarize the planting process in 4 steps:

Illustrations by Dan Gilchrist

Step 1

Dig the planting hole as deep as the roots and at least twice as wide. Loosen the sides of the hole with a shovel or spade fork, especially if your soil is heavy clay. Amend the removed soil with up to 20% garden compost such as G&B Organics Soil-Building Conditioner.

Step 2

Form a cone of loose soil in the center of the hole and spread the roots over it. Position the plant’s height so that the crown (where the roots meet the trunk) is at or slightly below the soil surface. If the trunk has a conspicuous graft, it should be kept at least 1 inch above the soil surface.

Step 3

Fill the planting hole and cover the roots with the amended soil. It’s beneficial to mix the amended soil with native soil along the sides of the planting hole as much as possible as well. Tamp down gently to keep the plant firmly in place.

Step 4

Slowly and deeply soak the area with water. Newly-planted trees and shrubs need consistent deep watering for at least 2 years. Learn more about best watering practices.

After your plant is watered in and settled, you can also build up a ring of soil at the edge of the planting hole to form a saucer, which will help hold surface water in the root zone. Mulching with 2-4 inches of compost or soil-building conditioner will also aid in keeping the soil moist and weed-free. Keep the mulch at least several inches away from the crown to prevent rot.

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bare-root fruit trees

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bare-root contorted flowering quince

Don’t forget Swansons’ experts are always here to help answer any questions you may have about planting and care. Talk to us in person or email us at garden@swansonsnursery.com.

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of the blog post published in February 2019.

February is “bare-root” season at Swansons and this means now is the best
time to find an extensive selection of fruit trees and berries at a great
price. Many of the varieties of fruit trees and berries that we have in
stock now won’t be available later in the year!

Imagine stepping out into your garden to harvest nectarines from a tree heavy with ripe fruit or waking up to see clouds of soft pink blossoms on a line of dwarf flowering cherries. February is definitely a time for dreaming about the beauty and abundance of the PNW garden. It’s also the perfect time to make your garden fantasies a reality.

February is “bare-root” season at Swansons and that means we have our most extensive selection of fruit trees and berries right now, lots of varieties that won’t be available later in the year. It also means that these “bare-root” trees and shrubs are available at a great discount during our Early Spring Sale (February 5-March 7, 2021)!

But what is “bare root” exactly and why can we offer it at such a good price? Read on to discover everything you need to know.

What is Bare Root?

Let’s get down to the root of the issue – pun intended 😉
Bare root means that the plant has not been potted; instead, plants are harvested from their growing beds in the fall and the soil is removed from their roots. They are then bundled and kept dormant in cool warehouses until they are ready to be shipped to us beginning in late January. When they arrive at the nursery, we don’t pot them but instead, we cover the roots in sawdust to prevent them from drying out.

Bare-root plants are ready to be planted immediately into the garden or into a permanent container while they are still dormant.

Why Bare Root?

They may look kind of funny now, but there are many advantages to choosing bare root.

Optimal Growth. Bare-root plants can more quickly acclimate to new soil conditions when planted and get a vigorous head start on growing. The roots are placed directly in contact with native soil upon planting and that means the plant can start building a strong root system right away before they have to deal with producing leaves and flowers.

Amazing Selection. Our selection – especially of fruit – is at its very best for the entire year. Do you dream of planting an Asian pear tree? Grapes? Currants? Blueberries? All of the above? We now have plants and varieties that may not be available at other times.

Great Value. Many of the trees and shrubs available in bare-root form are already good-sized plants. Because they can be efficiently harvested, stored, and shipped, we are able to offer them at great savings. Buying bare root is extremely advantageous whether you need a large number of plants for a big landscaping project or just a few plants for your garden.

Fruit Trees & Berries in Abundance

This is the time to find espaliered fruit trees, those lovely tiered trees that look so charming growing along a fence or garden wall. Most of our espaliered trees have between two and four different varieties of fruit grafted onto each tree. For example, an apple tree might include ‘Jonagold’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Yellow Delicious’, and ‘Gravenstein’.

These fruit combos are also available in non-espaliered trees. Try a semi-dwarf combination plum with four varieties that ripen at different times for a long-season harvest! Since many fruit trees require a different variety planted nearby to pollinate and espaliered and combo trees already have different varieties grafted onto them, you don’t need to plant more than one tree!

We are especially excited to offer a few truly unique specimens, such as ‘Fruit Cocktail’ and ‘Fruit Salad’ trees. These trees have a mix of different fruits grafted onto one tree! Seriously. Quite the conversation sparker, don’t you think?

And if space is at a premium, choose a columnar fruit tree, specially bred to grow in an upright column providing high yields of fruit without a lot of branch width.

Beyond fruit trees, you will find all kinds of berries: blueberries, raspberries, currants, marionberries, and more. Learn more about growing fruits and berries here.

How Do I Plant Bare Root?

Planting bare root is no more difficult than planting any tree or shrub. Until you are ready to plant, keep the roots of your plants covered in moist sawdust. We bag bare-root plants up for you in plastic when you purchase them, so you can leave them in the bag or, if you are planting the next day, remove the plant and soak it in a bucket of water overnight.

Bare-root plants are dormant and can handle being outside in freezing temperatures, but be sure to defrost the sawdust before trying to remove it from the roots to avoid breakage. You can also prune out any damaged roots before planting.

Really, you can summarize the planting process in 4 steps:

Illustrations by Dan Gilchrist

Step 1

Dig the planting hole as deep as the roots and at least twice as wide. Loosen the sides of the hole with a shovel or spade fork, especially if your soil is heavy clay. Amend the removed soil with up to 20% garden compost such as G&B Organics Soil-Building Conditioner.

Step 2

Form a cone of loose soil in the center of the hole and spread the roots over it. Position the plant’s height so that the crown (where the roots meet the trunk) is at or slightly below the soil surface. If the trunk has a conspicuous graft, it should be kept at least 1 inch above the soil surface.

Step 3

Fill the planting hole and cover the roots with the amended soil. It’s beneficial to mix the amended soil with native soil along the sides of the planting hole as much as possible as well. Tamp down gently to keep the plant firmly in place.

Step 4

Slowly and deeply soak the area with water. Newly-planted trees and shrubs need consistent deep watering for at least 2 years. Learn more about best watering practices.

After your plant is watered in and settled, you can also build up a ring of soil at the edge of the planting hole to form a saucer, which will help hold surface water in the root zone. Mulching with 2-4 inches of compost or soil-building conditioner will also aid in keeping the soil moist and weed-free. Keep the mulch at least several inches away from the crown to prevent rot.

Don’t forget Swansons’ experts are always here to help answer any questions you may have about planting and care. Talk to us in person or email us at garden@swansonsnursery.com.

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of the blog post published in February 2019.

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