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Planting Bareroot Woody Plants

Planting Bareroot Woody Plants

Bareroot plants have some distinct advantages that makes them excellent options when buying woody plants. First, they are an economical choice and less expensive than potted plants. Bareroot plants can also be planted very early in spring, giving them an extended amount of time to become established in their first season of growth. And because they are dormant when planted, they are often easier to establish than potted plants.

When to plant

Bareroot woody plants must be planted in spring, and earlier planting is generally better than later planting. After the soil has thawed and excess moisture has dried up, it is time to plant. In Wisconsin that can be as soon as early April and can last until late May or early June depending on the weather. Early planting is best because it gives the roots extra time to begin growing and become established before leaf growth begins. This initial rooting in process generally takes 10 to 14 days. Cool weather delays bud break and gives the roots more time to grow before top growth starts.


Soaking the roots overnight or for up to 24 hours before planting is important, as it allows the plant to absorb water. Soaking for more than 24 hours is not beneficial, as the roots can become oxygen starved and become damaged from overly long soaking.


Be sure to site bare root plants in a location where the soil conditions and light exposure are proper for that particular plant's needs.

Dig a hole larger than the roots system so the roots don’t have to be bent when planting. If the roots are too long, they can be trimmed so they are laid out straight. Also, examine the roots and remove any that are broken. Roots heal faster when removed with a clean, straight cut.

Place the plant in the hole at the same depth it was in the nursery. The color on the stem or trunk will indicate the planting depth, as the area that was under ground will be darker in color than the part that was above ground. Raspberries and birch need to be planted very shallowly to ensure good growth and survival. If planted too deeply, they will not grow even though they were alive when purchased.

The soil used around the bareroot plant should use at least half of the native soil if not more. Adding some peat moss or compost to the soil is recommended to help get the plants off to a good start. Once the hole is ready and the roots have been soaked, you are ready to plant. Place the plant at the proper depth and put the enriched soil around the roots, filling the hole half way. Water the soil to settle it and remove any air pockets. Place the rest of the soil in the hole back to nearly the same level. It is best to leave a little indentation to capture rain water. Water again after finishing the planting.

You can add Root & Grow Plant Starter to the water used to water in the new plant. It contains nutrients plus a natural plant hormone that stimulates root growth.


Because it takes about 10 days to 2 weeks for the roots to become active enough to supply the plant with water, you should keep the soil evenly moist during this period. After the 2 week period, allow the soil to dry out some between waterings.

Have Patience

Some types of plants leaf out faster than others after planting, so don't give up too early on newly planted trees and shrubs. You can use a "scratch test" to determine if a dormant plant is still healthy. Simply scratch away a small area of the bark. If the tissue is green underneath, the plant is alive.

Planting Shade and Fruit Trees

Follow the basic planting guides above. It is best to stake trees to prevent wind damage. This can be done with a single stake if the tree is small. The stake is needed for the summer and then should be removed so the plant can grow on its own.

Water the tree when there are extended periods of hot, dry weather in the summer. Soak the soil and let it dry out between waterings so the roots can grow and breathe.

The tops can be reduced by pruning if there is too much top for the root system. Further pruning can be done once the tree is established. Remember that branches are set in height once they are laid down. If a branch is 3 feet from the ground when it comes out it will only be 3 feet from the ground in 20 years. Remove any branches that are too low as the tree grows, so the branches start at your desired height.

Mulching and Protection

It is best to create a mulched area around the tree after planting to enure the trunk is not bumped with mowing equipment. Even relatively light bumps to the trunk can cause damage. Mulch around the base of the tree also helps to keep the soil moist.

Protecting young trees from sun scald, which causes bark cracking in winter, is also recommended. Plastic spiral tree guards around the trunk will help to prevent winter bark cracking. The guard can remain on the trunk until corky, mature bark starts to replace the the juvenile bark.


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