Growing Perfect Fruit Trees: A Guide to Bareroot Planting

Growing your own small and manageable fruit trees starts with well-planned bareroot planting.

| April 2015

Bare roots

In winter when the weather is cold and damp, dormant saplings can be dug from the soil and shipped to nurseries with their roots exposed. Once they arrive at the nursery, bareroot trees are often “heeled in” – buried in moist soil for protection.

Photo by Marion Brenner

Imagine a peach tree that’s the same height as you, an apple tree that doesn’t require a ladder for reaching the top-most fruit. In Grow a Little Fruit Tree (Storey, 2014), author Ann Ralph provides a timed pruning plan and simple maintenance guidelines for keeping ordinary fruit trees small and manageable. Little trees need less garden space, are easier to care for, and offer just the right amount of fruit for most households. The following excerpt is from Chapter 5, “The Fruit Tree Comes Home.” 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Grow a Little Fruit Tree.

About Bareroot

Without question, bareroot is the best way to buy and plant fruit trees. Bareroot season offers a first critical lesson in timing. It presents several opportunities on a limited-time-only basis: the best possible price, the widest selection of varieties, the option to plant without added amendment around the roots, and, of critical importance — and thoroughly explained in chapter 6 — the opportunity to prune a young fruit tree properly from the outset. Young trees with unconfined roots establish readily and naturally into garden soil. For reasons of economy and availability, most nurseries bring in their full supply of fruit trees for the bareroot season. In most cases, the trees you find for sale later in the year are bareroot season leftovers.

Attend to New Arrivals

Because their roots are exposed to air, bareroot stock requires immediate attention. The principle concern with bareroot trees is dehydration, especially a problem if winters are unseasonably warm or dry. Moisture in the air helps to keep roots and bark hydrated. A tree with moist bark more easily pushes new branches from latent buds.

It’s a good idea to soak bareroot plants that arrive by mail but counterproductive to soak them more than four to six hours. Follow the instructions of the supplier. Plants held in moist soil or sand at the nursery have hydrated roots and should not require soaking, but keep the roots damp and protected for the few hours between nursery and home until they get into the ground. Soaking is of little help if the trees don’t get planted in a timely fashion and their roots dry out.

Some bareroot trees come packaged in plastic bags with sawdust, an innovation that serves the nursery (or grocery or big box store) and not necessarily the plant. You get bigger and healthier root systems if you buy your fruit tree from a nursery or a reputable mail-order company — root systems that haven’t been pruned to accommodate a small, airless bag. As the season progresses and plants begin to grow, the dicier this packaging becomes.

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