Bare root fruit trees are just that – trees whose roots are bare, without soil covering them. This may seem odd to the new fruit gardener, but it is an old and common practice. Trees you can expect to be sold as bare root are the temperate fruit and nut trees that experience a complete dormancy. They have shed all of their leaves and are not in an active growing state.
Bare root tree start their life in the soil as seedling root stock planted closely together in tree lines. They are generally field grafted, meaning that the grafting team walks down the lines grafting the trees in place.
Once the reach a sellable age and size, they are dug with special machinery, graded, sorted, and the roots are wrapped to protect them from wind and sun – they are bare, but they are not exposed for more than a few minutes at a time.
Not everyone is comfortable with bare root, but in general it is still a good way to order, receive, and plant fruit trees. There are some advantages to planting bare root fruit trees. They are lighter, and therefore more economical to ship. Because of the way they are dug, they often have large, well-adapted root systems. There is generally more variety available in bare root trees than in containerized varieties.
Bare root trees adapt very quickly once they are planted. Dormant bare root trees have a great deal of reserve energy stored in their roots and they will adapt and grow quickly once planted in your home orchard. Your garden soil is likely to be much better than the media used by the nursery in a containerized tree. The bare root tree will quickly take advantage of its new soil environment.= since it does not have to transition from the media in the container.
Bare root trees can only be dug and shipped when they are in their dormant state. This can mean late fall through late winter, depending on the part of the country you are in, and the weather conditions where the trees are grown. They are usually available in our area in January.
Bare root can be planted anytime the ground is not frozen, which means throughout fall and winter here on the Gulf Coast where soils never freeze, even if we experience snow and ice.
Proper planting methods differ somewhat for the majority of Gulf Coast soils than the advice usually found in gardening books. The method outlined in the link provided below will work well in clay gumbo, and clay-combination soils.
Here are the steps toward getting your bare root off to a good start.
Buy your tree from a reputable supplier. Make sure that the nursery has “heeled in” the trees to prevent the roots from drying out. Heeled in means that the roots will have been buried in a damp medium.
While the roots should be heeled in, it can become an issue if they have been crowded into a large container and packed too tightly in their media. When the tree is pulled from the container for sale, roots can be broken and the graft can be stressed or even cracked. You should be present while the tree is pulled. Refuse any tree that is damaged in the process.
The graft union should be well healed and stable. The branches should appear plump; not shriveled or dry. There should be several thick anchor roots and some feeder roots – the number will vary by age and variety. The tree should be securely tagged with a variety label.
If the trees are branched, choose a specimen that has low branches that are arranged like spokes around the trunk of the tree. Do not be overly concerned if the tree is unbranched, or if the branches seem too high on the trunk for your planned training style. You can head the whip back and stimulate new branches from which to begin your training.
Care during transportation & before planting
Make sure the roots do not dry out during the trip home. The roots should be bagged or wrapped to maintain moisture. If you will plant the tree within 24 hours of arrival, it is ok to just make sure the roots are moist and that the tree is placed in a shady location. If it will be more than a couple of days before you can plant, heel the tree in at home.
Heeling in can be done by placing the roots in a large plastic sack and packing the roots in damp shredded newspapers, moist compost or potting media. The material should not be soggy, just moist like a wrung out sponge. Keep the tree and the bag in a cool, shady place where it will not be exposed to direct sunlight. Do not store the tree with its roots in water such as in a bucket or tub.
Planting your bare root tree
Planting is the same as any fruit or nut tree. Follow our Tree Planting Directions and your tree will be off to a great start. Once you are familiar with how to handle and plant bare root, a whole new world of varieties will become available to you.