Are you familiar with bare root fruit trees? You might have heard about them in passing, but weren’t sure about what they are. Basically, “bare root” is a process of transplanting certain types of trees and bushes. The young trees are removed from the soil while they’re in a dormant state. Then, instead of being transported to their new home in large pots, the soilless trees are wrapped up and their bare roots are planted into the new soil.
It’s an especially popular method of transplanting rose canes, berry bushes, and fruit trees.
Bare root planting is one of the best methods for establishing fruit trees. So much so, in fact, that some people only choose to plant bare root fruit trees, while others prefer container species. But what’s the difference?
Bare Roots Fruit Trees versus Traditional Transplants
As mentioned, when a bare root tree is transplanted from nursery to new home, it’s in a dormant state. Bare root fruit trees are never transplanted with buds or flowers on them.
Unlike container trees, which can live for days in their pots while you pick a spot and start digging, bare root trees can’t wait around. They only have a bit of sawdust or burlap around them, no soil or nutrients to draw from. If you plan on trying this method, aim for transplanting as soon as you can work your soil in the spring.
If you’re trying to determine which fruit tree planting method is right for you, there are several factors. A lot depends on your garden, the season, and your own gardening personality. But let’s take a look at the pros and cons of bare rooting so you can make an informed decision!
There are a lot of positives that come along with bare root fruit trees.
1. Easy to Ship
Without the heavy bulk of soil around them, bare root trees are much easier to transport. They open up whole worlds of plants to you because you’re not just limited to what the local nursery has in stock. With bare root trees, you can afford to ship in honeyberries and black ice plums from far away nurseries.
Container trees are difficult and expensive to ship. Not only are they bulky and weighty, container trees aren’t dormant. Bare root trees are only transplanted in dormancy, so they need less water, light, and air than container trees. This makes them hardier during transpot.
If you’re ordering from far away, you’ll definitely want to choose bare root fruit trees.
2. Early Planting
Bare root trees are available in winter, for the earliest planting possible. In fact, they can be planted weeks earlier than container trees. This extra time gives bare root fruit trees a chance to establish themselves in their new home before the heat of summer sets in.
The first few weeks after transplanting are a dangerous time for fruit trees. Too much heat, not enough water, or sudden frosts can damage container trees. But dormant bare root trees aren’t as vulnerable to damage.
3. Ease and Variety
Younger, smaller, and easier to ship, bare root fruit trees can come in every variety under the sun. Furthermore, there aren’t as many limitations on what you can find and where you can find it. The trees are younger too. They’re easy to prune and shape, which makes them perfect in structured gardens.
With bare root fruit trees, you can confidently create a strong, fruit-bearing tree without worrying about correcting years of careless growth.
One of the best benefits of bare root fruit trees is their adaptability. Bare root trees take to the soil sooner, need less care during their transition, and adjust to their new home sooner than container trees.
They grow quickly too. So while you may be debating between larger container trees and small, bare root trees, remember that bare root varities will grow more quickly for the first few seasons. This is partially because bare root trees have about 200% more roots than container trees. Instead of having to develop a wider root system, they can just start growing right away!
What about the Disadvantages?
Every process is going to have its setbacks. For some gardeners, they may seem minor, but you may find out that they have a huge impact on your garden. Making sure that you’re aware of the drawbacks to bare root planting will help you make the best decision for your garden.
Bare root fruit trees do have a minimal collection of cons. For the most part, this method of transplanting is fantastic. But let’s take a look at some of the issues you might have.
You have to plant your bare root trees before they emerge from dormancy. That means before they begin to bud. You’ll need to plant your trees within 48 hours of delivery. Unlike container trees, your bare root trees have no nutrients around them, so they can’t wait for you to decide where to plant them.
Additionally, they need to be kept in a cool, dark place while they wait for planting. If you stick them in the sunlight before you plant them, they’ll wither and die.
When you order your bare root fruit trees, choose the fastest mode of delivery available and plant them as quickly as possible to circumvent this issue.
2. Limited Seasons
Bare root fruit trees are picky about their planting times as well. Don’t try to plant them in late spring, summer, or early fall. Hot, sunny weather and dry soil are death to bare root trees. Plant them in early summer or late autumn when the ground is full of moisture and the tree has a chance to settle in before the weather changes.
This isn’t exactly a drawback—it’s more of a gardener’s rule. Wait for the right season to put in your bare root trees and they’ll reward you with healthy, vigorous growth.
If you want to jump into growing fruit trees as quickly as possible, bare root trees are disappointingly small. In fact, they’re rarely available above 5 feet tall. These trees are younger than many container species, so they’re significantly smaller as well. It’s great for easy transportation, but it also means you have to wait a few more years for your tree to start producing.
This is important to keep in mind if you’re planning an orchard.
The Bare Root Option
If you’re planning a fruit orchard, bare root trees are often the best option available. The wide variety, the cost saving, and the easy, natural way they take to new ground makes adding fruit trees to your garden simple.
With so few drawbacks, it’s easy to jump onto the bare root bandwagon!
Now, if you’re still in the planning stages but you’re still not certain about bare root trees, give them a try by buying one or two from a reputable nursery. Then you can see how well they do before making a big investment.
So, how do you plant successful bare root fruit trees? Let’s go over it quickly to give you a good idea of the process.
Planting Your Bare Root Trees
First, pick out a tree variety that you’re interested in. I’m getting two Black Ice plum trees this year, and I chose them because they’re extra cold-hardy, delicious, and beautiful. Once I decided on the Black Ice trees, I picked out where their future home would be.
You’ll want to make sure that the spot you’ve picked for your trees has the best growing conditions you can offer. I ended up taking down two pine trees to open up the orchard to more sunlight. Then I bulked up the soil with some composted goat manure.
You can use any well-composted manure or tree food. Be sure to work it well into the soil. Once all that is done, go ahead and order your trees. Or, if you have a great local nursery, go pick them up.
Picky Gardeners Choose Healthy Trees
I don’t recommend buying bare root trees from big box stores. The plants are older than they should be, and they’ve often been allowed to come out of dormancy already. These trees are probably going to die.
Be choosy. Find quality, healthy young trees—even if you have to go out of your way to get them. You’ll be grateful for decades.
As soon as you get home, plant that little tree in the spot you’ve prepared for it. Don’t leave it waiting. Now water it, and give it some time to get acquainted with the earth. You’ve got a happy, thriving little bare root fruit tree in your garden now.
After a year of growing, determine how you feel about it. Chances are your fruit tree will be bigger, stronger, and happier than ever. Now, go ahead and invest in that orchard of plums and pears—I’ll be right there with you buying my next set of fruit trees too!