Get Your Barerooted Plant to Its Full Potential
A favorite time of year for me at our small nursery was bareroot season. My father built wooden open-top boxes that would hold the sawdust and sand mixture used to “heal in” barerooted roses, fruit trees and a few deciduous shade trees. The new purple rose, Lavender Girl, along with Peace, Dainty Bess, Carousel and others, two types of figs, peaches, plums, nectarines, cherry, apple, pecans, mulberries, and ash were all carefully spaced in the boxes to allow for removal with the least amount of disturbance to plants on either side of a customer’s selection.
We made trips to Bisbee (25 miles south) to get a ’54, long bed Chevy pickup truck. Then we hauled loads of sawdust from the underground copper mine-site, where timbers were sawed to varying lengths for support of the mine tunnels. Next, we made trips to just outside town, backing into dry sand washes to fill the pickup with sand. You would get into a rhythm using square-point shovels powered by “Armstrong” motors, and keeping an eye on the truck bed springs to make sure the truck wouldn’t be overloaded. Finally, all was ready for the bareroot’s arrival.
The “healing in” mixture was five to one, sawdust to sand. The mixture helped maintain moisture around the root system and made it easier to remove the plants, when sold, without further damaging root structure. We always hoped to sell out every plant/tree.
But there were always a few left to be put in five gallon, ex-paint cans (used to “pyramid” the cans and burn them clean). This was before plastic containers. The orphaned trees were can-planted in a mixture of sand and sawdust, and picked and shoveled by hand.
Ah, the good old days.
Tips and Tricks for Success
The home gardener can reduce loss of barerooted plants by keeping the roots moist up to the point of planting, as well as trimming away any damaged or broken roots.
Points of interest for bareroot aficionados are as follows:
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- Ask your nursery to notify you when barerooted plants arrive. The selection will be better, and the more the “healed in” plants are disturbed, the higher the likelihood of root damage. Root hairs begin forming on dormant plants in late spring, so make your purchases before plants begin producing root hairs! Get the bareroots planted in your yard to allow this development to occur in the ground.
- A note on barerooted plants that are sold in packages (roses are a prime example): check for moisture in the water-absorbing material around the roots. A lack of moisture will have increased plant shock. Plants that appear off-color, with shriveled bark or discolored stems, are probably dead.
- Guard against drying of the roots prior to planting. Put the plant in a bucket of water or moisten the packing material while preparing the hole.
- Dig the planting hole (make it wider and deeper than the rooting structure—nothing like putting a $20 dollar tree in a 5 cent hole and wondering later why it died so quickly) or prepare the plant container before the purchase is made.
- Backfill soil should have a good quality, slow-release, organic-based fertilizer mixed in at a rate of 1 cupful per 5 to 10 pounds of soil. For trees or roses, build a pyramid-shaped mound in the hole to receive a spreading out of the root structure. This will hold roots in place and enable backfill soil to come in contact with more root surfaces.
- Care must be taken with grafted plants to not bury the bud union (the bud union is where rootstock and scion join). Keep this point of the graft at least 2 inches above the established soil line. The downside of burying the bud union may lead to a point of entry for disease or stimulation of dormant rootstock budding that produces unwanted rootstock growth.
- Water immediately to remove air spaces and settle the soil. The watering should be done with a mix of a good liquid humic acid and liquid seaweed, at the rate of 1 ounce of each product per 1 gallon of water. The humic acid will be food for the microbial community and the seaweed’s auxins (plant hormone) will enhance root hair development. Water liberally. Backfill soil may be needed to finish the floor of the water basin. If all is done correctly, a tree cannot be pulled out with one hand after a few days.
- Prune and select scaffolding branches after the plant has settled. No less than 3 or more than 5, 12 to 18 inch long branches should be selected.
- Smell the roses and enjoy the fruit!
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