What Should I Do?

Photo: Phil Williams

How to Plant Bare Root Fruit Trees

Getting ready for bare root tree planting season
Friday, January 10, 2014, 12:21 PM

*If you would prefer to watch an instructional video on how to plant a bare root fruit tree, there is a video at the bottom of this article.

What is a bare root tree?

A bare root tree is just like it sounds. It comes with the tree, roots, and no soil. This is extremely beneficial to online shippers, as it makes the trees extremely light to ship. I received three trees from Adams County Nursery that weighed less than ten pounds all together. I would not buy bare-root trees from a big-box store, as it is hard to know how they have been cared for. It is best to buy direct from the grower if possible. I have had good luck with the trees from Adams County Nursery.

  

What do you do if you can’t plant them right away?

When you get the trees, they will not have any leaves on them, and they will be dormant. The roots are typically covered in sawdust and plastic. The roots should be moist. If you keep them in a cool, dark place and make sure the roots stay moist, they can stay like this for 2 weeks. If you need to wait longer than this, they will need to be heeled in.

When to plant them?

Early spring is the best time, but the ground must not be frozen.

How to plant bare root fruit trees?

1. Dig a hole approximately 18 inches deep and 18 inches wide. This will vary depending on how small or big the root system is. Do not add any manure or fertilizers to the hole. In most cases, the existing soil is fine for the backfill.

2. Put the tree in the hole so the roots lay naturally. For apples, plums, and pears, you will want the bud union, which is the knot where the tree is grafted to the root stock, to be 2 inches above the surface. Cherries, nectarines, and peaches are just above ground level.

3. Make sure tree is straight, and backfill the soil a little at a time, adding water and tamping the roots lightly to ensure good soil contact to the roots.

  

4. Saturate with water.

5. Stake if it is a dwarf rootstock.

6. Add compost as a mulch to fertilize slowly throughout the season. Keep compost at least 2 inches away from trunk of tree. This is a great time to plant a living mulch in the compost. I like to use Dutch white clover. It fixes nitrogen and attracts pollinators. You could also add a nutrient accumulator like comfrey or even certain herbs like oregano, which confuses pests with their strong smells. If you don't plant the compost, something will grow, so it's nice if we (as the gardener) get to decide what would be beneficial for the tree.

7. Immediately prune the tree.

Apple, Plum, and Pear Trees:

If it is an unbranched tree, take it down approximately 25%. Make the cut at a 45 degree angle to ensure water runoff. If it is branched, establish a strong central leader. This will be the tallest branch going straight up. The central leader should be 18 inches above the nearest side branch. If there are other branches growing straight up alongside the central leader, then remove these secondary leaders. Remove side branches that are lower than 12”, and shorten side branches to 12 inches long. Remove limbs with narrow crotch angles, and those branches growing inward, crisscrossing, or broken.

Peach, and Nectarine Trees:

Cut back tree about 35%. Cut side branches back to 4 buds. Remove inwards growing branches, broken branches, and crisscrossing branches. Make cuts at a 45-degree angle with clean, sharp pruning equipment.

8. Install ¼” welded wire around tree to protect trunk from rodents. Do not use the white plastic that Adams County sells, as the trunk does not get enough air, and it can cause disease. I lost two trees this way.

9. If you have deer, make sure the tree is fenced. This can be as simple as a post and wire fence around just the tree to protect the young tree as it grows through the deer-browsing level.

After Care

Maintain good weed control around the tree to discourage competition for nutrients and water. If dry, keep tree watered at least once per week with 4 gallons of water.

Conclusion

I have planted typical container potted trees, very deep-rooted container pots, and bare-root trees. I have had the best success with my bare-root trees. I have to admit that I was skeptical the first time I planted these, but the results were much better than my container-potted trees.

Type of tree  Labor to plant Cost  Initial look of tree Long term performance

Container-Potted

Low

High

Good

Average

Bare-Root Trees

Medium

Low

Poor, after severe prune

Very Good

Deep Tap Root Container-Potted

Very High

Medium to High

Average, tree usually small

Very Good

Video: How to plant bare root fruit trees

 ~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com.  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goas are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

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5 Comments

Tall's picture
Tall
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 18 2010
Posts: 564
Two things to add

Never just sit your bare root trees out on top of the ground in the air like that. Air and desiccation will kill the fine roots. Keep them moist and out of sunlight until they are planted.

Water heavily at planting and 1 day later. The soil should be saturated to the point where puddles form. This water will tend to force air out of the planting hole so that no air pockets remain that discourage root growth.

Otherwise, great video!  Thanks.

Grover's picture
Grover
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 800
Two More Things
Phil Williams wrote:

7. Immediately prune tree.

Apple, Plum, and Pear Trees:

If it is an unbranched tree, take it down to approximately 25%.

Phil, This tells me that the tree height should be reduced by 75% to get down to 25%?  In the video, you say that the height should be reduced by 25%. Some trees have the desirable fruit production part grafted onto another variety's stem, which is grafted onto another variety's rootstock. If you get a "5 in 1" dwarf tree (with 5 separate types of fruit on the same dwarf tree,) you'll be getting this combination. Pruning below the top graft will result in you being very unsatisfied. You may only get fruit from the stem stock variety. It may take many years to find out about this mistake. If the grafts aren't obvious, ask someone knowledgeable first.

 

If you have very clayey soil, caliche, or other hardpan, make sure your hole wall isn't smooth. Some people rent an auger and drill a perfect hole. I've seen tree roots hit these smooth walls and start whirling. The roots never do penetrate into the adjacent soil. The trees end up root bound (looks similar to Ted Koppel's hairdo) and don't live up to their potential. The cure is to take a spade or hoe and "roughen" the walls. Even a discontinuity (spade insertion) a few inches deep periodically along the wall will give the roots something to angle into.

Good post, Phil.

Grover

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Typo

Grover,

Good catch, that is a typo. Adam, could you remove the "to", so it says take it down approximately 25%.

Thanks

Phil

[Done. -- Adam]

 

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Tree Watering
Tall wrote:

Never just sit your bare root trees out on top of the ground in the air like that. Air and desiccation will kill the fine roots. Keep them moist and out of sunlight until they are planted.

Water heavily at planting and 1 day later. The soil should be saturated to the point where puddles form. This water will tend to force air out of the planting hole so that no air pockets remain that discourage root growth.

Otherwise, great video!  Thanks.

Tall,

I agree, I probably should have talked more about that. I was pulling those trees one by one from the garage as I prepped the holes, where they were in their original packaging and the roots were kept moist. They weren't sitting out long. I personally never lost a tree that way. Also, if I am planting a large volume of smaller bare root trees, I'll soak the roots in a tub of water and pull from the tub as I'm going to save time. I planted over 500 of these trees this way over the past few years, with very good results.

Phil 

 

jameshardy's picture
jameshardy
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 21 2014
Posts: 1
Plantation

Plantation is one of the most essential practices that bring advantage for human being as well as environment. Here in this above article we have found how to plant bare root fruit tree; these plants are basically cheapest as compare to other plants. Therefore we used to plant bare root trees and I hope from here we can learn basic instruction about how to plant bare root tree.

Organic plant fertilizer

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