From fall through early spring, nurseries will be selling bare-root trees, shrubs and even perennials. Mail-order nurseries also ship their plants bare-root. Nearly always deciduous, bare-root plants are grown in fields and dug while dormant. For easy shipping, all soil is removed from the roots, which are sometimes packed in moist sawdust or wood shavings and wrapped in plastic. Other times they are simply bundled together and shipped as is. Nurseries then either plant them in containers or store them with their roots packed in moist shavings or sawdust.
Buying bare-root plants is one of the best deals in the garden world. Without the cost of soil and pots, bare-root plants are inexpensive and easy to handle. But you must know how to choose the best plants and then store them properly until planting.
When buying bare-root plants with roots wrapped in plastic, make sure the packing material is moist. Plants that still have adequate moisture will be heavier than dry ones. Avoid plants that have started to grow. If the plants aren’t packaged, examine the roots to make sure they are healthy and moist, and branch out in all directions. Avoid those with mushy, dry or damaged roots, or with roots concentrated on one side of the plant.
If you can’t plant immediately, store the plants in a cold, shaded place, such as the north side of the house or a cold garage. If the roots are exposed, pack them in moist wood shavings or potting soil. If the ground isn’t frozen, you can dig a trench and temporarily cover the roots with soil. Don’t let the roots dry out.