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Bare Root Planting

Gardener planting an apple tree in to a prepared hole - variety is Bramley
planting bare root tree
Gardener planting an apple tree in to a prepared hole – variety is Bramley

Bare root trees and vines are field grown, then dug during the winter when they are dormant. They are stored and shipped with all the soil removed from the roots–bare root.

Bare root trees and vines are usually less expensive than those sold in containers. Young trees and vines without soil weigh less and are easy to move. Planting a bare root tree requires less work on your part–heavy lifting is not required.

Bare root trees and vines must be planted soon after they leave their growing fields. With no soil around the roots, bare root plants can dry out and die if left exposed to the air for very long.

Bare roots should be planted when the soil in their new home is moist and when the plant is not actively growing–by mid-spring before bud break, or mid-fall after leaf fall. Planting bare roots when they are dormant will allow them to get established and grow new roots before leaves begin to grow and before summer sun and drying winds arrive.

Get bare root plants in the ground as quickly as possible. While waiting for planting store bare roots in a cool place and keep the roots moist by covering them with damp mulch or wood shavings.

Ten Easy Steps to Plant Bare Root Trees and Vines

  1. Remove wood shaving or packing material around the roots. Rinse and clip away any broken or dead roots.
  2. Soak the roots in a bucket of water for one to four hours–but not longer. This will allow the roots to plump up with moisture.
  3. Dig a hole at least two feet wider than the roots of the plant and half again as deep as the roots. You want the roots to flare out from the trunk when set in place. Be sure to loosen the soil on the sides of the hole to give the roots access to their new home.
  4. Add planting mix or compost to the hole and mound it into a cone whose top reaches just to ground level. Set the bare root plant on top of the mound and cascade the roots down over the cone so that they flare out from the trunk.
  5. Face the plant’s graft union to the north or the shaded side of the hole. Fill the hole about halfway and tamp the soil lightly to remove large air pockets.
  6. Place a stake or support in place being careful not to harm the roots. Make sure the plant is standing straight up.
  7. Water in the roots to remove any remaining air pockets in the soil.
  8. Finish filling in the hole. Use extra soil to build a berm around the perimeter of the roots, a basin to water the plant early on.
  9. Keep the soil moist for the first year after planting. Mulch to retain moisture but keep mulch back six inches from the trunk.
  10. Check the plant regularly and water to keep the soil moist but not wet.

Also of interest: Planting Bare Root Trees and Vines

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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