null Skip to main content
7 Steps To Planting Bare Root Trees and Shrubs

7 Steps To Planting Bare Root Trees and Shrubs

Posted by Grange Co-op on 2nd Feb 2014

Planting Bare Root TreesPlanting bare root trees and shrubs can have big advantages for your yard, garden, and wallet. Bare root varieties – which are dug and stored without any soil – typically cost less money, and they also gain more root mass and are easier to plant with less weight and packing soil or materials to deal with.

Timing is everything.

Time your planting precisely because the one drawback to planting bare root plants is the limited planting window. Bare root trees and plants need ample moisture in the soil, so that means late winter and very early spring is the time to plant. Though the middle of fall might be okay too, you will not find bare root plants in garden centers and nurseries at that time.

Before you plant bare root trees and shrubs.

Most areas of the Rogue Valley will require soil amending to grow a good garden of vegetables or ornamentals. The heavy clay soils most commonly found in this area really need the addition of substances which will open the soil and provide enhanced aeration and adequate pore spaces for water to percolate through the ground. Grange Co-op carries Gardner & Bloome® Soil Building Conditioner is the most universal soil amendment in our arsenal. In the case of some plants, however, such as acid-loving plants like Azaleas and Rhododendrons, the soil will require more improvement. A product such as Gardner & Bloome Acid Planting Mix for shade and acid loving plants will work for these plants, as well as in a fern garden.

Rogue Organic Planting Compost is a perfect addition to the planting site for bare root berries, fruit and shade trees. You will want to make sure to avoid ‘hot’ or overly rich mixes on brand new plantings.

To Fertilize or Not To Fertilize?

Usually we do not use a full strength fertilizer on brand new plantings. Though, an hour long soak of bare roots in Liquinox Start or Liquinox Bloom may help soften the woody root stumps and stimulate formation of soft, new, root hairs able to take up water and nutrients – thus aiding the plant’s becoming established.

That being said, how exactly do you plant a tree or shrub that doesn’t come with soil already attached? Here are 7 steps that will help ensure success with your bare root planting:

  1. Unpack the tree and soak it in water for 3 to 6 hours.
  2. Dig a saucer-shaped hole at least twice as wide as the spread of bare roots. You may want to make a mound of good soil in the center of the hole.
  3. Remove the plant from the water, remove any packing materials attached to the roots, and prune off any broken, twisted, or discolored roots.
  4. Put a stick across the hole to mark the soil level. Hold the plant in the planting hole with one hand so that the soil line on the trunk or stem is about an inch above the stick. This line is usually indicated by a change in color or texture on the bark. With the other hand, spread the roots evenly away and down so they will not be crowded.
  5. Fill soil in carefully around the roots without letting the trunk level sink.
  6. Make sure to give new trees plenty of water. After the initial soaking at planting time, wait until the plant/tree has leafed out to start regular watering. When the plant is fully leafed out, an inch of water over the planting site per week should be enough the first season. A soaker hose is perfect for this job – do not count on lawn irrigation to take care of watering trees and new plantings. If there is a 6-week or more period without rainfall, an additional soaking of the planting basin would be a good idea. However, by far, more bare root plants fail from over-watering than drought. Without a developed system of feeder roots being established yet, the plants cannot take up much water, and frequently what little root they do have rots away with unneeded irrigations.
  7. Wait to fertilize. Late summer of the first season after planting (August, early Sept.), a light feeding of a low Nitrogen fertilizer, such as Gardner & Bloom Fruit Tree Fertilizer or Liquinox Bloom would be appropriate. Regular feeding can begin the following year in February or March – just before the tree/plant leafs out.

If you can’t plant the bare root tree right away, sprinkle tops with water and cover the roots with damp packing, sacks or canvas. If the weather is too cold for planting, put the box or bundle in a cool but frost proof place. If weather is warm and you’re not ready to plant, “heel” the stock in, which is temporarily planting your trees where they will be protected from the sun and wind. Remove all packing material and spread out the roots and fill in firmly with pulverized earth. Keep moist.


Pruning is usually done continuously at the nursery and very little should be needed once you get your tree home. However, it is now your plant and you can shape it however you want. You can make a shrub into a tree or train an apple tree flat against a wall (espalier). Make sure to remove any parts that get broken in transit and any branches that are crowded or crossing. Try not to leave two branches nearly opposite as they’ll form a bad crotch when the tree is older. As the tree grows taller over the years, you can remove lower branches for clearance – but a tiny tree may well need all the leaf surface possible.

For fruit trees, simply cut off the top just above a bud 2 to 2 ½ feet from the ground. Protect young fruit tree trunks from rodent and rabbit damage with collars of hardware cloth (galvanized wire screen) 6 to 8 inches in diameter and 2 feet high, or use tree wrap.

Here are specific planting tips for specific varieties of trees and shrubs.

Dwarf Fruit Trees

Plant with bud union (where fruit tree was grafted to root stock) at least 4 inches above the ground. Trunks should be tied to permanent stakes.

Bush Fruits

  • Currents and Gooseberries. Set 2 or 3 inches deeper than in the nursery. Cut off half the tops. Plant 4 or 5 feet apart. Always cut out infested canes.
  • Red & Black Raspberries and Blackberries. Plant in good garden soil 3 to 5 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Set Red Raspberry plants 1 to 2 inches deeper than they were in the nursery and Black Raspberries 1 inch deeper. Firm soil over roots, and water. Cut back all plants to about 6 inches high. Don’t let any fruit set the first year. Allow new shoots to make rows 6 to 8 inches wide.


  • Highbush Blueberry soil should be moist, light textured, contain a high proportion of organic matter, with test acidity at pH 4.0 to 4.5. Set bushes 6 feet each way. Mulch each year with 3 to 4 inches of sawdust or peat. Cultivate shallowly because of shallow root system. Plant in sun for good yields.

Broad-Leaved Evergreens, Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Camellias

  • These plants require an acid soil (about pH 5) either maintained or created artificially, a moist situation but one with excellent drainage and a light soil with a high proportion of humus. As they are shallow rooted, plant them high, maintain at least a 3-inch mulch around them, and never cultivate.

For any additional questions or tips, you can contact your local Grange Co-op Garden Center.