Planting bare-root trees can be one of the best bargains in gardening. While it may seem strange to plant a tree with roots not contained in soil, it’s actually an excellent practice that boasts immense success. Many bare-root trees, in particular grafted fruit trees, have already been growing for two years before they’re sold, so you’re getting a good-sized tree that’s ready to take off once it gets tucked into soil.
To learn more about bare-root trees, read Selecting and Storing Bare-Root Plants.
Advantages of Bare-Root Trees
Variety – Local nurseries carry a larger selection of bare-root trees than containerized ones because bare-root specimens require less space. Using mail-order and online sources, you can purchase trees that are native to other parts of the world. When buying bare-root, you’ll often find tree species that simply aren’t available in any other form, and you’ll definitely discover a greater selection of fruit trees and other edible crop trees.
Price – Bare-root trees cost 30 to 50 percent less than a container-grown tree of the same size. The cost savings occurs because you’re skipping the labor required for potting and maintaining a containerized tree. Because they lack soil, bare-root trees weigh less, which reduces shipping costs.
Larger root mass – According to Cornell University, a bare-root tree contains 200 percent more roots than the same tree sold balled-and-burlapped, which is dug with soil intact around roots and wrapped in burlap to hold soil in place. The difference is due to harvesting equipment.
Easier to handle – Bare-root trees are lightweight, which means they can be shipped directly to your door using common parcel delivery services. You can carry bare-root trees more easily and fit more in your car. Plus, when planting bare-root trees, it only takes one person to maneuver the young tree into place.
Better performance – Bare-root trees frequently take off more quickly than containerized ones because roots aren’t transitioning from container soil to local soil. Bare-root trees are planted during dormancy, which gives them weeks of root growth that spring-planted container trees lack.
Disadvantages of Bare-Root Trees
Small planting window – Bare-root trees must be planted during dormancy – before buds break. Planting areas must be ready; you need to plant bare-root trees as soon as possible after receipt or purchase. Learn how to handle a bare-root tree before planting.
Limited time-frame – While containerized trees are available at local nurseries all season long, bare-root trees are sold only for a limited time. Leftover bare-root trees are potted and sold during the growing season – for twice the price.
Fruit-bearing age – Not always, but in many cases containerized fruit trees start bearing a year or two sooner than bare-root trees.
Pruning – With fruit trees in particular, early pruning and training is crucial to develop strong crops. Most containerized trees have received initial pruning. Bare-root trees purchased through mail order will likely be topped to fit in shipping cartons, but after that cut you do all the pruning.
When To Plant Bare-Root Trees
No matter where you live, it’s best to plant bare-root trees during dormancy – before buds break and leaves appear. Your planting window also may vary depending on when you can obtain bare-root trees.
- In warmer climates, plant from late fall to early winter.
- In colder regions, plant anytime soil isn’t frozen.
- In the coldest zones, use caution when planting bare-root trees in fall. Aboveground growth may not be sufficiently hardened off to prevent winter damage. Late winter/early spring planting yields the greatest success. But definitely order bare-root trees as early as possible to ensure the best selection.
Photo courtesy of Stark Bro’s Nurseries & Orchards Co.