Caring for Bare Root Trees (Prior to Planting)

— Written By Bill Hanlin and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

If you are like me, you occasionally like to order plants from one of those mail order bare root treenurseries. In most instances, trees will be shipped bare root with no soil around the roots. Instead, some type of lightweight material like newspaper strips or peat moss will be added to keep the roots from drying out. If you order bare root trees, you will need to take some special precautions if you are not prepared to plant them right away.

When you get your trees, it is always a good idea to open the box up and check on the health of the plants. Even though the plants may be dormant, they can still arrive in a damaged condition. Make sure the packing material around the roots is moist and is keeping the roots from drying out. Add more water if the material has dried out during transit.

Bare rooted trees can be kept in the shipping container for a short time, if you are not prepared to plant. These containers should be kept in an area that does not get too hot or too cold. Unheated basements can provide ideal conditions to store the plants for a short time.

Plants that are not going to be put in the ground for at least a couple of weeks should be heeled in the soil to keep the roots from drying out. The heeling in process begins by digging a V-shaped trench in the soil. The trench should be deep and wide enough to hold the roots without breaking them.

Line the bottom of the trench with straw or some type of mulch. Place the plants at an angle with the roots in the trench and cover the roots with soil. Some people will add mulch over the top of the soil to help prevent the roots from drying out. Make sure the roots are watered in but not to the point that the soil is saturated.

Heeled in trees can be kept this way until you are ready to plant. Ideally, planting should be done before the tree begins to leaf out in the spring. Make sure to monitor the trees on a regular basis to maintain soil moisture.