​​What are Bare Root Plants

​​What are Bare Root Plants

Last Updated On: February 13, 2023

When the winter starts to end, gardeners tend to get excited at the prospect of digging into the dirt again and growing new plants. Most tend to start checking nurseries and online plant catalogs for ideas and inspiration.

While most nurseries and online catalogs feature established plants, they also tend to offer bare root options. A lot of people are familiar with bare root plants, but for many, it might be a foreign term. In this article, we’ll look at bare root plants, what they are, and why you might want to grow them.

What Are Bare Root Plants?

Bare root plants refer to plants that are sold without any soil. Given that plants are usually sold potted, the option for bare root versions presents an interesting experience for gardeners.

Bare root plants are usually dormant trees, shrubs, or perennials. These are typically grown under normal nursery conditions and then dug up during their dormancy.

These are then prepared and packaged for storage. Afterward they are shipped to you or local garden centers. Typically, bare root plants are wrapped in plastic, or may have sphagnum moss or sawdust wrapped around the roots. This allows nurseries to offer lower prices and delivery rates due to reduced weight.

For buyers, the lower costs can be enticing. This allows buyers to purchase plants at a cheaper price, or more than traditional plants. Plus, the bare root varieties are less prone to damage as there are no leaves, soil, or even ample root systems that can get injured during transport.

Most bare root plants are delivered during fall, late winter, and early spring. The dates mostly depend on the type of plant as they are expected to be planted soon after delivery.

Types of Bare Root Plants

Most fruit trees have bare root options, as do ornamental shrubs and landscaping trees. Some of the most popular bare root plants include raspberries and strawberries. Aside from fruits, artichokes and asparagus are often purchased bare root.

When it comes to ornamental flowers, roses are at the top of the list of bare root plants. Perennials, such as peonies, Helenium, hardy geraniums, and agapanthus, are usually sold bare root as well.

The Advantages of Using Bare Root Plants

There are many benefits to using bare root plants instead of established ones. Some are more obvious than others, so let’s go over all of them.

More Root Mass

Given that they come without soil, their root systems are exposed making them easy to examine. In fact, bare root plants often have twice the number of roots compared to their potted counterparts.

Lower Costs

Without the added weight of potting soil and the pot itself, bare root versions end up more affordable. Without added labor and materials, the seller saves on expenses while the buyer enjoys lower prices.

More Convenient Planting

Bare root plants do not need to undergo hardening-off activities or even transplanting. This makes bare root plants easier for gardeners to move and grow.

The Drawbacks of Bare Root Plants

While they generally work well, bare root plants also have some slight downsides. Before you rush out to buy bare root versions of plants, you’ll need to consider some factors.

Time Constraints

One is that gardeners have less time to work with them. Without the soil to keep the roots hydrated, the plant can dry out and perish if enough time has passed. Typically, bare root plants should be in the ground within one week after purchase.

Limited Selections

Not all plants will have bare root options. Some species are not sold as bare root plants as they tend to not survive well. Other times, the available plants can be sold out due to popularity. Either way, external factors can hamper your plans in getting bare root plant varieties.

Things You Should Check Once Your Bare Root Plants Arrive

As with any plant, bare root are susceptible to a range of issues. You should always inspect your plants before buying them to help prevent any nasty surprises. Here’s a quick list of things that are signs of a sickly plant.

  • Look for possible signs of mold or mildew on the package and the plant itself.
  • The plant should not have any damage, such as broken branches or roots.
  • The roots and rhizomes should feel heavy, as light and dry ones can suggest they have dried out.
  • Sniff for strange smells that imply rot or disease.
  • Finally, the bare root plant should begin to produce leaves in the year it gets planted. This isn’t one you can - - check at the store but can help you determine the plant’s longevity.

Bare Root Plant Tips and Techniques to Keep in Mind

While growing bare root plants is easier than established ones, it doesn’t mean that it’s free from mistakes. We have collected some of our best practices when it comes to bare root planting just to help you make the experience a little better.

  • When ordering 1.5 to 2 feet bare root trees, ensure that they are planted within 24 hours. This is quicker than with smaller plants.
  • If you are unable to do so, store the bare root plants in a cool place.
  • Determine that the fall varieties are dug from mid-October to late November.
  • For spring trees, ensure that they are dug from late March to early May.
  • Keep the bare root plants covered and moist until they are planted in the ground.
  • Once planted, give them a quick watering that saturates their soil.
  • Afterward follow normal plant care just as you would with any plant.
  • Depending on where you live and your current climate, some of our tips may need to be adjusted. When in doubt, you can also ask your bare root plant supplier for their advice when it comes to where you live.

Caring For Bare Root Plants - Pre-Planting

When your bare root plants are not yet ready for planting you will have to ensure they are properly cared for. To help you get the best results with your bare root plants, apply the following methods where applicable.

  • Place the bare root plants in good potting soil, and store them in a cool place.
  • Give them a bit of in-direct light but avoid exposing them to harsh, direct sunlight.
  • When storing them outdoors, ensure frost protection by covering the bare root plants properly.
  • Avoid having the roots dry out in the potting soil, water them lightly to keep them slightly moist.
  • Trim off only dead and damaged parts of the plant before planting.
  • Ensure that the plant is placed no deeper than its root crown, where the roots start to grow.
  • Wait about four weeks after planting to fertilize.

Bare Root Plants

Bare root plants are a great way to make more of your gardening budget and try something new at the same time. Bare root plants are a bit different than traditional ones, but with the above tips, you’re well suited to grow them.

Do you have other best practices in mind? What are you planning to grow from bare root? Tell us about them.

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