Planting bare-root trees is a process that must be done correctly; it is not that difficult, but is one that needs to be done in such a way to give the tree the best start in its new location. For those who do not know, bare-root trees are plants that are dug up from the ground during their dormant stage, which is typically in autumn. The roots of these bare-root trees are shaken free from soil and then kept cool and packed in a moist material like damp sawdust. This makes bare-root plants easy to store and ship in good condition.

Bare-root trees can actually be ordered for shipment in either autumn or early spring from mail order nurseries. These types of nurseries generally have a wider selection of trees than local nurseries and the costs of bare-root trees can be one-third to one-half of the price of equivalent container-grown trees. Though purchasing high quality plant stock does account for good growth of these bare-root trees, they require proper care upon arrival, appropriate site placement, and careful planting.

Follow these important guideline to ensure success when planting bare-root trees:

1. Inspect bare-root tree upon receipt

The bare-root tree should be removed from its packing when it is received to make sure the roots are still moist. If the roots are not moist and seem to be dry, it should be soaked in a bucket of water for approximately eight hours.

2. Keep bare-root trees moist and cool until ready for planting

One of the advantages of planting in autumn is the buds will not re-emerge until spring. However, when planting bare-root trees in the spring, the trees can sometimes be ready to grow before you are ready to plant. If this is the case and you are not ready to plant, simply keep the roots moist by repacking them with moist autumn leaves, wood chips, or even newspapers that have been shredded, and then wrap the root ball in plastic to maintain the moisture. In addition to keeping the roots moist, the bare-root tree must also be kept cool so it does not break its dormant state. Once the plant is repacked, place the plant in an unheated garage or against the north side of the house.

3. Inspect the roots once more just prior to planting

Cut off any broken, diseased, or dead material. The surface area of wounds can be reduced by cleanly cutting frayed ends, making the healing time quicker reducing the occurrence of root disease. Roots too long to splay out into the planting hole should be shortened, either that or dig the hole larger to accommodate the longer roots.

4. Has it been in storage?

If the bare-root tree has been in storage and not planted immediately it is a good idea to immerse the roots in water prior to planting for a couple of hours.  Furthermore, carry the bare-root tree in a bucket of water or with the roots wrapped to keep them from drying out on the way to the planting site.

5. Assess the soil prior to digging a planting hole

Simply scoop up a bit of soil and squeeze it to see if it has enough moisture to crumble readily. If the soil is too dry give it a bit of water. If the soil is too wet, then give it some time to become drier.

6. Sizing up the hole

Studies show that a planting hole dug two to three times the diameter of the root spread will allow the roots to establish more quickly. The hole should also be just deep enough for the bare-root tree to stand slightly higher than it did before it was excavated. The hole should also be tapered to the depth from the ground level to the full depth at the centre of the hole. The hole should look like a wide, shallow cone. Loosen and rough up the soil in the hole with the shovel.

7. The soil pH
If the pH of the soil needs to be adjusted now is the time to place lime or sulphur in the bottom of the planting hole and thoroughly mix it with the soil.  Never add fertiliser into the planting soil because it may burn the new roots. Furthermore, do not add organic materials like compost or peat moss because they will hinder the roots from growing beyond the amended soil.

8. Planting the tree
Place the bare-root tree in the hole so it stands slightly higher than it was previously planted.  Place loose soil back into the planting hole. The tree will set atop this mound as the roots will be spread about the mound. Simply adjust the height of the mound to keep the top of the root ball at the level stated earlier. At this point put a bit of soil over the roots to keep the trunk in place.

9. Backfill the planting hole

Use your fingers or even a stick to work soil back into the planting hole in and amongst the roots. It may be necessary to bounce the plant a bit periodically to settle some of the soil and to adjust the position of the tree. To help contain the water build up a bit of a ridge with the soil around the outer edge of the planting soil. Check to make sure the tree is standing straight before removing any diseased, dead, or crossing branches.

10. Surround the base

Surround the base of the tree with a cylinder of 14-ince mesh hardware if there is a potential for damage to the bark by rodents.  Make sure the base of the cloth is pressed into the soil a couple of inches.

11. Insulate the tree

Finally, use a bit of mulch, about three inches of wood chips or straw, to cover the bare ground.  Leave a few inches of space around the trunk; the mulch could cause the trunk to rot if it touches the tree. The mulch is meant to insulate the roots, keeping them warm in the fall and winter, while keeping them cool and moist through the summer.

12. Soak the ground

Soak the ground beneath the tree thoroughly, allowing the water to seep into the soil.  Then soak it again. Create and maintain a weekly watering schedule for the first year, using about one gallon per square-foot-spread of the roots. Stake trees over three feet high to protect them from heavy winds, keeping them staked for about a year or until the roots take hold firmly in the soil.

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