Choosing bareroot plants can allow the home gardener to select from a wide variety of interesting flowers, shrubs, and trees.
You've heard of Bear Grylls, the star of the Discover Channel's "Man vs. Wild." You know a brown or black bear when you see one. You remember the popular children's animated movie, The Jungle Book and its theme song "The Bare Necessities." But do you know anything about a bareroot plant?
A simple definition would be a plant (flower, shrub, or tree) with bare roots. You'll often see the term used in plant catalogs, this is to let customers know that the plant they're purchasing is shipped with its roots exposed, or bareroot. Why would they do this you might wonder? Some studies have shown that bareroot plants are more likely to easily adjust to their new home when planted in one type of soil. A report by Joan Helbacka, Washington State University Master Gardener Coordinator states: "The soil in containers is almost always a different texture than garden soil."
Some type of potting soil mix is used by most large-scale nurseries and greenhouses, this isn't a bad thing. But when you think about it, it makes sense that a bareroot plant would find it easier to root in only the garden soil that you'll be planting it in. Compare it to living in only one home for many years (your roots are well established), and then deciding to build a new one. Once you're moved in, you might find it a little discomforting, you might even require extra time adjusting to the new surroundings. When planting container grown plants, you'll probably notice a slight decline in the plant's vigor for a short period of time, possibly up to a week, until it reestablishes itself in the new soil. Once this period of stress is past, most plants do fine, as long as we've done our job with site preparation (proper planting depth, location, sun requirements, etc.). Bareroot plants are also much easier to ship and you can even find a wider selection of plants to choose from,
When buying or receiving bareroot plants there are several things you need to look for and be aware of. At first glance you might think your shipped plant didn't survive the trip; the roots have no soil, there may not be very much moisture, and you don't see any green at all. This is normal, your plant is dormant and its requirements for those things have been put on hold for now. Check to see that the plant's stem is solid, not soft and/or mushy. Examine the roots, they'll probably be wrapped in some type of packaging material, they should be moist not soggy, and should branch out in all directions.
You should plant your bareroot perennial, shrub or tree as soon as possible. Prepare the area ahead of time so that you'll be able to place your bareroot plant in its new home quickly. If you don't have the planting hole ready, store the plant in a cool area, in shade, or in the garage. If the packing material is still good, keep the roots wrapped within, if not set the plant in a bucket with just enough water to cover the roots (if there's still a chance of cold weather, don't set the bucket outside where the water might freeze). It may be necessary to heel your plant(s) into a temporary bed if you're not going to be planting it within a day or two. There's a couple of ways you can do this; dig a trench and lay plants on their sides, covering roots with loose soil, then water; or for trees or shrubs, prepare a temporary spot the same as if you're planting it in its permanent location. I've had good luck planting bareroot ornamental trees in temporary spots and then moving them to their permanent home a year or two later.
The bare facts on bareroot plants are really quite simple - follow the planting directions that came with your plant, and if you're unsure about anything, contact a local nursery or greenhouse. There's also a short Guide to Bare-Root Plants in the FAQ section of The Garden Watchdog here on Dave's Garden. You can even contact yours truly if you want to try and stump me with a question.
And of course, there's tons of information available on the Web, here's a sampling: