Bare-root is exactly what it sounds like: the roots are bare of soil. December through February is the time to plant bare-root in the greater Sacramento region. Many dormant plants come as bare-root, but this article will focus on roses and fruit trees.
The primary reason for growers to ship bare-root plants is money, as it is significantly cheaper to ship without soil and a pot. Growers dig up plants when they are dormant and wash off the soil. Often they will pack these in sawdust and place in burlap or plastic bags. Alternatively, you will find them in nurseries resting in beds of sand.
There are several benefits of planting bare-root versus potted plants. First, the amount of plant varietal selection during this season (December to February) is much higher. Second, planting while dormant reduces transplant stress, which occurs when transitioning from potting soil to your garden.
When selecting a bare-root rose, there are a few key things to look for. You want to select a plant that has three to seven canes (stems) in an evenly distributed ring. If canes are black or broken, don’t buy the plant. Additionally, if foliage has emerged and it is wilting, then do not buy the plant; this can be a sign of rot or the plant drying out.
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For bare-root fruit tree selection, look for a single trunk with no wounds, which can be identified as major cracks or gouges. If purchasing a three-in-one or similar tree, ensure the individual grafts do not have wounds. A three-in-one or four-in-one is a fruit tree with a root system that has multiple varieties grafted onto it. These are ideal for gardeners with a small usable space.
Here are tips on how to plant your bare-root roses or fruit trees.
▪ Plant within a few days of purchase. If this is not possible, then keep out of direct sun.
▪ If wrapped in plastic, make sure they are not allowed to fill up with water. This will cause rotting.
▪ If no wrapping, make sure to cover roots with compost until ready to plant.
▪ After unwrapping the plant and removing packing sawdust, check the roots. Cut or trim any broken, dead or damaged roots.
▪ If the packaging material is very dry, then soak the roots in a bucket of lukewarm water overnight to hydrate.
▪ Do not plant in wet soils. Digging and working wet soils will break down the soil structure. Plan ahead and cover the desired planting site with plywood or plastic to keep dry from rain.
▪ Dig a hole no deeper than the roots, but several inches wider than the root system.
▪ Form a mound of compacted soil in the center of the hole. The roots should drape over this. Doing so prevents the roots from snapping when soil is backfilled, as well as preventing a large air space.
▪ Backfill the hole with soil. If your soil is predominantly clay or if you are concerned about nutrients, mix compost (type is not critical), humus, or a planting mix. I prefer doing a 50/50 ratio.
▪ Do not plant too deep. After watering, if the plant settles too low below the soil (top roots should be right below ground level), then raise the plant by gently tugging up and backfill the hole space with soil.
Young fruit trees are very susceptible to sunburn, as they do not have the foliage mass to shade them. This can lead to open wounds on a trunk allowing insects and/or diseases to enter. To prevent this, it is necessary to paint the tree trunk with a 50/50 white exterior latex paint to water solution. Directly after planting is an ideal time to initially paint. This is an annual task until a tree is large enough to shade its trunk.
Lastly, to grow a shorter fruit tree you will need to prune the bare-root tree down when you first plant. Doing so makes future pruning and fruit collection much easier. Some growers have started shipping plants already cut down, but it is still common to see 6-foot tall plants. When pruning, keep in mind that where you cut will be the lowest branches of the tree. Be sure to leave at least three nodes on the trunk, as these will yield your main scaffold branches.
Note: This does not apply to three-in-one or other multi-variety grafted trees. Why? The scaffold branches are already formed for you, as these are the grafted variety limbs.
Ask The Plant Lady
Q: I have a white coating on my indoor palm. I tried using a mixture of soap and baking soda. It kept it from spreading for a bit, but now is moving on to my other houseplants. What can I do?
A: Powdery mildew is a foliar fungus that can grow on almost any plant, indoors or outside. If left untreated, it can cause leaf die back and eventual plant death. The most effective remedies are spraying with neem oil or sulfur sprays (sold at nurseries) on a 7-10 day interval until symptoms disappear. One tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of dish soap in a gallon of water may help, but baking soda is a salt and can burn plants if used more than a few times. This option is not as effective as the former. Keep in mind the existing powdery mildew will not necessarily disappear. The controls will kill the migrating spores to prevent additional leaves from being infected.