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Planting and Caring for Bare Root Trees

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

When your bare root trees arrive it's important to get them in the ground as quickly as possible. We recommend knowing where you're planting your tree and getting the hole dug prior to your bare root delivery. If you are planting in a large pot make sure you have it and your potting soil ready to go.

The first thing you'll do when your bare root order comes in, is to soak the root ball in water for at least an hour. This allows the tree to take up any moisture it's lost in transit.

Prepare your planting site:

We recommend the hole to be wider than it is deep. Preparing a wide hole will loosen the soil around the roots to promote lateral growth which will aid in keeping the tree stable in strong winds. The size of the hole will depend on what tree/bush/vine you'll be planting. As a general guideline you'll want the hole to be about twice as deep as the root ball. For most of our trees we recommend a width of 4-5ft. For most vines and bushes a width of between 1 and 3 feet should be adequate. The depth of the hole should be around one foot, but will depend on the size of the root ball.

A mix of one part soil (from the hole you just dug) and one part peat moss or coconut coir will give your tree a good start. DO NOT add any fertilizer to your planting hole. The roots of bare root trees are extremely sensitive and any fertilizer can burn the roots killing your tree in the process.

Once the tree site is prepped add your bare root tree to the hole and back fill the soil/peat mix over and around the root ball. You can make sure that the tree isn't buried too far by placing a straight stick or post over the hole and bringing the top of the root ball just above ground level. Planting the root ball slightly higher than the ground will allow the soil around the tree to settle without bringing the trunk of the tree too low as it settles.

The majority of problems people have with their bare root trees come from planting the tree too deep, which is why we recommend the tops of the highest roots be exposed and not buried under soil. If the trunk is buried along with the root ball it will be exposed to too much moisture. Excessive moisture around the trunk of the tree will allow diseases a path beneath the protective bark, which can cause problems later down the road as your tree comes out of dormancy (when it is most vulnerable).

If you know your planting site is exposed to a lot of wind or the root ball is too small to support your new tree in an upright position, then we suggest adding an untreated wood stake to your planting hole prior to planting your tree. Hammer the stake into the center of the hole, place your tree a couple inches away from the stake and back fill the hole. Support the tree by tying it to the stake with some strips of cloth leaving space between the tree and stake. Check periodically to make sure the ties don't girdle your tree as it grows.

You'll also want to check that the stake isn't rubbing any of the bark off in the wind. If this becomes a problem, the issue can be alleviated by fitting a piece of firm foam between the tree and stake. The ties should be removed after the first year. You can leave the stake in place as it will likely decompose naturally over time, or cut it at the base (do not pull it up).

Once your tree is planted, gently tamp down the soil around the tree and water thoroughly. This helps to stabilize the tree, settle the soil, and remove air pockets around the roots. During the first few months your bare root tree is in the ground, its important to keep the soil moist as the new roots develop so your new tree doesn't dry out. Water your tree weekly in its first year of life. If you are in a region where rain is frequent, you may stop watering once your tree is established, usually after the first year, only watering during dry spells. Otherwise your tree will need approximately and inch of water per week. Keeping a few feet around your tree mulched is a great way to retain moisture, reduce weeds, and add nutrients to your soil naturally. Keep mulch away from the base of the tree to avoid excess moisture and disease.

After the first year of growth you can top dress with a balanced fertilizer 3-4 times per year. We recommend finding a fertilizer with trace elements added for the best results. Most trees will begin to fruit their second season in your garden, so get ready for the bountiful harvests in your near future. We'll be adding some of our favorite ways we use fruit from our own food forest, so keep an eye out for those recipes too.

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