Bare Root Planting

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Bare Root Planting - Garden Guide

Care At A Glance

Be prepared to plant your bare root plants as soon as possible, even in cold weather. Bare root plants are dug, prepared, and cold stored before shipping. They will acclimatize to your current conditions. Remember, it can take 3 weeks to a month for deciduous plants to root out before they break bud and produce new shoots. Evergreens and deciduous plants typically take 2-3 months to become fully established, which means care and monitoring are long and necessary. Plant bare root plants while they are still dormant. If buds are swollen or already have new leaves, keep plants in a cool basement or unheated garage and wait to plant until the threat of frost has passed, or use a frost cloth or something similar to protect plants from late frosts. If the shrubs are in new growth or pots, keep them in a sunny window until the danger of frost has passed, as they have been forced into new growth in a greenhouse.

If you cannot plant immediately:

  • Bare root plants can be kept indoors for about a couple of weeks if properly cared for.
  • Keep the roots wrapped and moist. Wet the sphagnum moss around the roots twice a week, if necessary.
  • Keep the plants standing upright in their packaging or with the roots covered in mulch in a cool (33-45°F), dark location.
  • If longer storage is needed, heal the roots outside to keep the plants dormant and the roots moist but not exposed.

Before Planting

  • Unwrap the roots. Moist moss is packed around the roots to keep them fresh and hydrated.
  • Inspect the roots and plants for any injury or damage from shipping.
  • Use a sterilized pruner to remove any broken roots.
  • Do not panic if the top leader or side branches sustain breakage during transit. Tip pruning is done immediately after planting and should correct any issues.
  • Soak the roots in clean, tepid water with a root stimulator like Bonide® Root & Grow®.
  • Use the root stimulator and water solution to water in new plantings.
  • Soak the roots of trees, shrubs, evergreens, roses, berries, and grapes for 12-24 hours.
  • For perennials like asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries, soaking is not recommended.

Planting Requirements

  • For detailed planting instructions, go to our Garden Guides.
  • Select a full-sun location (unless shade is specified).
  • Make sure the location has well-drained, organically rich soil.
    • Amend the soil with leaf/mushroom compost, peat moss, or aged manure (DO NOT use potting soil).
    • Consider adding a beneficial mycorrhizal inoculant like MYKE® Tree & Shrub Inoculant.
  • Avoid areas subjected to harsh winds.
  • Avoid low-lying areas where water and cold air can collect.
  • Follow pollination partner requirements for fruit trees, if necessary.
  • When digging holes:
  • Planting holes must be large enough to accommodate roots without bending, curling, or overlapping them.
  • If the roots are too long, they should be pruned back so that fit the hole.
    • Holes for trees should be twice as wide as the root ball and just a bit deeper.
    • For brambles, grapes, and birch trees, ensure the top of the root ball is only 1-2 inches deep when planting (inspect the plant for the previous soil line).
    • The sides of planting holes should be left rough with sharp edges, not smooth or slick, to avoid root girdling.
    • If the roots are longer than your hole is wide, dig a larger hole or trim the roots so they are not bent when you spread them out in the hole.
  • If planting in grass or turf, remove a 3-4 foot circle from around the tree at planting (2 feet for shrubs).
    • After planting, cover the bare soil with 3-4 inches of fresh compost or mulch to help maintain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and allow enough water to reach the roots.

After Planting

  • Tip Pruning deciduous trees once they reach the height at which you want the crown to start is necessary for axillary bud development.
  • Evergreens DO NOT require tip pruning.
  • DO NOT tip trim the central leader of shade trees.

Tip pruning guidelines by type:

  • Single whip fruit trees (main leader with no side branches)
    • Prune off the top 1 inch to remove the terminal bud.
    • Cut at a slight angle, just above a visible bud.
  • Branched deciduous trees (excluding fruit trees)
    • Remove any side branches growing closer than 10 inches apart along the central leader.
    • When finished, all remaining branches should be evenly spaced around the central leader.
  • Shrubs
    • Prune all dormant shrub stems to encourage strong branching from the base.
    • Dormant shrubs with many stems may need to be thinned by 1⁄3, then topped by 1⁄3.
  • Brambles (raspberries/blackberries)
    • Prune top canes (handles) back to about 6-8 inches above the soil surface.
    • Leave only 2-3 inches of the old cane.
  • Grapes
    • Tip pruning is critical. DO NOT skip this step.
    • Immediately after planting, tip prune the strongest vine back by a few inches, leaving at least two nodes at the top.
    • If there is more than one cane, remove the weakest cane(s) entirely.

Watering Newly Planted Bare Root Plants

  • Water slowly and thoroughly with a root stimulator and water mixture, ensuring all air pockets are being filled.
    • When done correctly, you will see air bubbles seeping out as the water soaks in.
  • Apply 1-2 inches of water per tree or shrub per week (3-5 gallons every 2-3 days).
    • Do not rely solely on rain events.
    • More water may be required, especially if the weather is hot and dry.
    • Monitor soil moisture and plant behavior closely.

Things To Keep In Mind

  • Breaking dormancy takes time. Be patient. It usually takes several weeks, but it can take a few months.
  • To produce new leaves, plants must first form new roots, which you will not see happening. As long as you follow our planting instructions above, your plants will establish well.
  • Not all plants behave exactly alike. One plant may leaf out faster than another, even if they are the same variety. Be patient and continue to provide adequate water.
  • Evergreen trees and shrubs can take longer than deciduous plants to show signs of establishing. Be patient and maintain regular, consistent watering.
    • Watch for trouble signs such as discolored needles or leaves; dropping needles or leaves; damaged or sloughing, cracked bark or stems. Trouble signs usually relate to moisture and soil composition issues.
  • If you are concerned about the viability of a deciduous plant, do a scratch test on the central leader or stems or do some additional pruning to verify that stems still have green tissue.
  • Prune off any suckers that form beneath the graft (when applicable) or from the ground level.

Still have questions? Contact customer service at or call 800.247.5864.