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How to Plant Bare Root Garden Plants

How to Plant Bare Root Garden Plants

What is a Bare Root Plant?

  • A bare root plant is simply a plant that has been dug out of its growing position with minimal roots and is bare of soil as a way of transplanting to a new planting position. The plants have been grown by expert nurserymen usually as field grown plants. Once lifted from the soil they are hand graded and packed into storage crates.
  • You can only dig up plants to move safely during the late Autumn and Winter period when active growth is slow for evergreen plants or when herbaceous perennials and deciduous shrubs have become dormant. In the garden, late Autumn and Winter is a good time to move plants for a successful transplant.
  • The plants must be kept cool and dark to avoid the plant beginning to grow where it will require soil for its roots, moisture for transpiration, light for photosynthesis and space to grow. In ideal conditions -in a temperature and humidity controlled cold-storage environment - plants can be held for months until naturally any living product will begin to decompose. – a bit like the leaving your vegetables in the bottom of the fridge, they do rot eventually.
    I have found that perennials, in particular, begin to 'wake up' when their body clocks tell them that it is spring no matter how cold you've stored them professionally but keeping them in the house fridge can prolong their dormancy if you cannot plant straight away.
  • A bare root plant is a great value way of introducing new established plants to your garden. When dormant they are less bulky and do not need caring for like a live plant with leaves and flowers so they are much cheaper to buy.

How do I store my plants if I have just received them at home?


  • Bare root perennials are usually sold as a chunky root within a polythene bag which has a handful of compost that is used to help keep the root dry. When received it is always best to plant as soon as possible providing the ground is not frozen or waterlogged. If not, they can be stored in a cool, dark shed for a few weeks until you can get out in the garden. Keep an eye on them to make sure they are O.K. If the root shows signs of new shoot growth it must be planted straight away into a frost free area to avoid the new tender shoots getting nipped. You can pot up into containers by planting the root just below the soil surface level if the garden is not workable.
  • Trees and Shrubs are usually supplied with a polythene bag around the roots which helps to stop the root from drying. As with perennials they can be planted straight out into the garden as long as the soil is not waterlogged or frozen. Alternatively, they can be 'heeled in'. This is the horticultural term for digging a shallow hole placing the roots in and leaving trunks at 45 degree angle atop the soil. Loosely throw some of the soil dug out onto the roots to keep them naturally moist and protected from frost. As soon as the weather warms in spring you will notice the growing buds begin to swell and burst into leaf. If this happens and you have not yet planted properly then you must do so as soon as possible to avoid the plant using more water than its root system can provide in its temporary home. You run the risk of the plant dying.

How to plant a bare root.

  • As with all plants before planting make sure the soil is workable – unfrozen and not waterlogged. Overnight soak the roots of the plant in a bucket of water. Dig over the area with a fork removing any perennial weeds which also breaks up any soil compaction adding some much needed air to the soil.
  • Rake level, firm with your heels and rake level again. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball. Perennials are mostly happy just below the soil surface. Shrubs and trees replant to the original soil level mark on the stem.
  • Add some fertiliser such as Fish, Blood and Bone, Garden Compost or Slow Release to the soil before backfilling and firming around the roots.
  • For Perennials use fingertips. Shrubs and trees require firming the soil around the stem with the heel of your foot.
  • Trees and tall shrubs may need a garden stake and tree tie to support its growth so it stays vertical in winds. Shrubs and hedging benefit from being trimmed back by at least 3rd to encourage shoots further down the stem to flourish.
  • In the first year make sure that the soil doesn't dry out around newly planted plants whilst the new root system is establishing itself again. Don't worry if the top growth seems slow in the first spring, the roots underneath are busy at work.


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