From January through early spring it is bare-root season for ornamental trees and fruit trees. The plants have been dug from growing fields and shipped with their roots free of soil to nurseries around the country. Some are individually packaged with their roots packed in moist wood shavings and wrapped in plastic. Others are shipped to nurseries in bundles where they are sold out of bins filled with moist sawdust or shavings.
Bare-root is one of the most economical ways to purchase trees, but you’ll want to consider the following, and select carefully.
- Be sure the trunks are straight without dramatic curves or bends.
- If there are branches (some trees won’t be branched), they should be evenly spaced along the entire trunk, radiating in all directions.
- The trunk should be free of wounds.
- If you can examine the roots, the more the better. They also should radiate in all directions, and be firm and moist, not soft and mushy.
- If the roots are packaged, the packing should be moist and heavy, not dry and lightweight.
If you can’t plant immediately, store your trees 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. When planting make sure your ornamental trees and fruit trees get off to a strong start by providing fertilizer and insect protection.