Secret to Bare Root Plants
It’s that time of year when gardeners dreams turn to buying bare root plants because they are less expensive, or something they can’t easily find locally. Or maybe you get a bare root tree for Arbor Day, or as a store giveaway at your local home and garden center. Regardless of how you get them, there is a simple secret to getting bare root plants to grow.
You need to pot them first.
That’s right, no planting directly into your garden this first year. Instead, get them in pots with potting soil and let them grow in the pot for the first year. What the plant is doing is establishing roots, which will ensure the plant survives when you transfer it into its final growing spot.
A number of friends have bought bare root plants from places like George O. White Nursery in Licking, Mo., one of my favorite places to get local native plant stock. The prices are hard to beat, the most expensive tree seedling is 90 cents per seedling, and the price goes down as you buy in larger quantities.
However, you don’t want to take those seedlings and plant them straight into your garden or landscape. The roots need a little more time developing so once you get the bare root seedling, get them into a pot. Make sure the pot is about twice the size of the current root structure to give it room to grow.
And be patient. It can take a little time for new seedlings to get used to their new environment, which is why I use plain potting soil, not soil with added fertilizer. I can then monitor how the plant is doing and add my own fertilizer as I see fit.
How do you know if the plant is settling in?
Green growth along the trunk nodes is one good sign. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t see much growth this first year above ground, with the right conditions most of the energy should be going into root development.
I leave my seedlings in pots through the growing season, then add them to my garden in fall or the next spring. I keep an area that I call my nursery and plop the plants, pot and all, in the nursery to winter over there if I haven’t moved them to their permanent location.
And don’t forget to water them. Since they are now in pots, they may need water more frequently than the established plants in your garden.
You will know they are ready to plant in the garden when the tree seedlings are looking more like the Tree of Life lap quilt.