Planting bare root trees and shrubs

Sugar maple treeApril 14, 2016 – Kenosha News

Question: I ordered some trees and shrubs through the tree program run by the Planning & Development division of the county, and I believe they will be bare root stock. Can you offer any tips on how to plant bare root trees and shrubs? N. W.

Answer: Nursery stock can be purchased in several ways, bare root, balled and burlapped, and in containers. Bare root stock is usually only available in early spring when the plants are still dormant. Some advantages of bare root plant material are there is less expense due to the lack of soil and container, and you can visually inspect the roots before planting.

Be sure to keep the root system moist until the time of planting. It is best to plant as soon as possible after receiving your stock. Most bare root stock is wrapped in packing material for transport. Remove these materials and inspect the roots which should be white or tan and fleshy, indicating a healthy root system. Prune out any damaged, discolored, or dry roots prior to planting.

Prepare the planting site by digging a hole large enough to allow you to spread out the roots and reduce overcrowding. Place the bare root plant into the hole at the same level where the plant was previously growing which you should be able to distinguish visually by the appearance of a slightly darker area on the trunk or base of the plant. When planting a bare root tree, plant so that the trunk flare or the graft is slightly (about 1-2”) above the soil surface. Sometimes the root system is quite distorted and can be difficult to maneuver into the hole. It may be helpful to form a mound of soil at the bottom of the planting hole which allows the roots to be spread out over the mound.

Fill the hole with the existing soil removed to create the actual planting hole. Don’t add amendments to the soil used to backfill, since this will deter the roots from growing beyond the amended soil into the existing soil. Try to keep the plant vertical during planting. Water thoroughly.

(Note: Plants ordered through the Kenosha County Planning and Development 2016 Tree Order Program were distributed on April 15th; yet, the information contained in this column is useful to anyone planting bare root trees and shrubs.)


Kenosha County UW-Extension LogoJeanne Hilinske-Christensen, M.S., is the Consumer Horticulture Educator for Kenosha County UW-Extension.