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How To Plant Bare Root Trees

Planting bare root trees is one of the simplest and easiest ways to get fruit growing in your garden – particularly during winter, while the trees remain dormant. Unlike container-grown trees, bare root trees are grown in the ground at a nursery, before being harvested.

Bare root trees establish much quicker in your garden than container-grown ones, meaning you’ll have beautiful fruit trees much more quickly. If you are wondering how to plant a bare root tree, our guide is here to help you.

Prepare an area for your bare root trees

Even experienced gardeners may not know how to plant bare root fruit trees the right way. Although it is a simple process, there are a few clever tricks that will help to get the best out of your bare root trees.

One of these tricks is to properly prepare the ground where you will plant your bare root tree. It is generally a good idea to prepare an area with a diameter of one metre, removing any grass, weeds and roots. This will allow your tree to get all the nutrients and moisture it needs, without competing for them.

apple bare root tree

Once your area is prepared, dig a hole for planting that is twice the size of your tree’s root spread. This will prevent the roots from being cramped in and becoming damaged. We recommend placing some organic matter at the bottom of the hole, giving it a soft base. This can be a layer of loose soil from what you dug out, potting mix or compost.

With all the ground preparation done, you’ll be one step closer to growing the perfect bare root trees.

Prepare your bare root trees

Although your area will be ready for your bare root tree, there is still a bit of work to do before planting.

How to care for bare root trees

The process begins before you even put them in the ground. A crucial step in your preparation is pruning bare root trees, giving them the opportunity to reach their full potential come spring and summer.

Before your bare root tree comes to you, a significant amount of the roots are cut off, leaving your tree out of balance before planting. Pruning is important because it restores the balance of the tree, giving it the best chance of success.

pruning bare root trees

We suggest cutting as much as 50% of the branches, although anything between that and 30% will be enough to balance the tree with its roots. Overall, you should be pruning around 30% of the buds on top of the tree. It can be difficult to cut back so much, but it is essential to give your bare root trees a strong framework to grow from. Generally, you shouldn’t be pruning any of the roots, with the exception of any snapped in transit. Pruning snapped roots a few centimetres before the break minimises the risk of infection to your tree.

Once your bare root tree is pruned, let the roots soak in a bucket of water for around two hours, giving them plenty of moisture.

Plant your bare root trees

Once all of your preparation is done, it is time to get planting. When considering how deep to plant bare root trees, look for the tree’s bud union, which can be found above the soil line. One way to do this is through a scratch test. Lightly use a tool to scratch where you believe the soil level to be on the tree, revealing its colour. The root of the tree will be white, while the trunk will be green. Where the colour changes is your bud union.

It is important to not expose the trunk to the soil or the roots to the air. Once you have found the bud union, make sure it sits just above the soil. There are some exceptions, such as with Lilac trees. Refer to the picture tag on your product for more details.

A common mistake gardeners make is burying the packing material that comes with their bare root trees. Packing material (such as sawdust, shredded paper or peat moss) serves to keep the roots of your tree moist, but should not be planted with it.

Spread the roots of your tree evenly, giving them plenty of space to grow. As you backfill the hole, make sure to eliminate air pockets by firming the soil. Gently shake the tree as you do this, allowing the soil to get between all the roots. When you are done, further firm the soil with your boot facing the trunk.

From there, make a small well around the tree’s base for watering, above the roots but not wider than them. Watering after you have planted your tree is important, as it further helps to ensure there are no air pockets in the soil. Fill the dam you created slowly, keeping it intact.

Support your bare root trees

One of the best ways you can support your bare root trees is to provide them with a layer of mulch, about 10cm in depth. We recommend making sure the mulch does not press against the rootball or trunk of your tree. We also recommend staking the tree for the first 12 months in exposed positions, as the tree requires time to establish its structural roots.

Once Spring begins and your tree starts to flower and grow, it can be beneficial to add a good all-purpose fertiliser. The Garden Express team can help you determine which fertiliser is best for your tree.

Regular water is the most important part of growing any bare root tree. A good rule is to give your tree a good soaking once each week – more often if the weather is warm. You should be careful, however, as overwatering can kill just as many trees as not giving them enough water. If you aren’t sure whether your tree needs more water, you can test it by sticking your finger in the soil – if it feels dry, it is time to water your tree again.

Ultimately, the question of how to grow bare root trees has a simple answer, which is why they are so popular among people who want to add some fruit trees to their garden. If you want to know more, or get started with your own bare root trees, give Garden Express a call on 1300 606 242.

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