Bare Root Season is here—time to plant

A delightfully beautiful rose, 'Double Delight' is a worthy bare-root selection.

Bare root season is here at nurseries and stores and it is a relatively short season. The plants are dug when dormant, hence it lasts from now to about mid-February, so plan to get out and get those plants you want to grow next spring while the selection is at its best. The season is extended somewhat if you buy plants by mail order from colder climates where dormancy lasts longer. Buying bare root plants is cheaper than buying them later when the same plants, not sold by the time dormancy is coming to an end, may be potted up and sold as potted plants. This increases their cost because of the labor and materials involved.

Hence bare root plants are a bargain, there is a wider selection and they won’t be root bound. However, the best reason to purchase bare-root plants is that they establish better when planted in the winter. Although dormant, the roots start to grow first and that can occur in January, so it is a good time for them to be planted and established in their permanent spot.

Common bare-root plants include ornamental and shade trees, fruit trees, shrubs and vines, such as grapes or kiwi. You can also find bare-root artichoke, asparagus, rhubarb, bramble fruits and strawberries. Many roses and perennials are also sold as bare-root plants. Although a bargain, make sure that you buy quality plants. Roots are often wrapped in a plastic bag packed with moisture retaining materials such as shredded paper, wood shavings or sphagnum moss. Examine the packaging closely to make sure that there is a good seal of the plastic bags so that the root packing material has not dried out.

For roses, examine the canes for abrasions, shriveling or other defects and look for at least 3 or more healthy canes. For example, last year when looking at roses in one of the big box stores, I saw roses whose canes were scarred up and down by perhaps the inappropriate or inadequate use of hedge trimmers to cut the canes back when they were packaged. I took a pass on those. I have also seen situations where the roses leafed out in the store and they removed the leaves to keep them looking dormant. Not a good thing to do, nor a great plant to buy.

Before planting a rose or other bare-root plants, it is advisable to hydrate them by soaking in a bucket of water for up to eight hours.  Roses should be planted according to the width that a mature rose will occupy and this should be indicated on the package.  Allow 30 or more inches between most hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, but more for those that grow larger and less for miniature roses. Being able to move around to prune and harvest your roses will be appreciated later.

When planting bare-root roses, form a cone of soil in the hole and spread the roots out over the cone. Prune off damaged roots and shorten any long roots which will wind around in the hole. Make sure the rose bud union is planted an inch or two above the surrounding soil as this will foster new cane growth by exposure to sunlight. You can use a broom or rake handle across the hole as a point of reference for getting the rose at the right depth. Add soil to the hole and then add water as you are filling in the soil to avoid any air pockets, but don’t hard tamp the soil or overwater. Allow for a porous soil structure as roots need oxygen too. This same planting approach is good for most bare-root plants except that only roses need an initial soil cone to spread the roots. It is unnecessary to add fertilizer to the hole when planting.

For fruit and ornamental trees, it is good to dig a wide hole rather than one too deep. A deep hole may cause settling and the graft union might go below ground level later. This increases the chances of crown rot and if the graft gets rooted you may lose the dwarfing effect of the rootstock. It would be advisable to dig deeper only if there is a hardpan that does not permit good drainage.

After planting, it is good to record what was planted by tagging the plant and mapping or journaling what you planted where. Don’t count on remembering 3 years later what the name of that rose was, unless you are blessed with a photographic memory.  Enjoy happy planting.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:

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    Lee Miller

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    Marcy Sousa

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