Winter Plantings

Bare-Root Trees, Shrubs, and Perennials

By Virginia Hayes

Many plants spend weeks or months in a state of suspended animation during the cold, winter months. Gardeners and farmers have discovered it is an ideal time to dig up the plants and move them around without adversely interfering with their growth during this state of dormancy. Here are the basics to transplanting and planting bare-root trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Whether you’ve ordered some fruit trees by mail, succumbed to the gorgeous pictures on the display tags of roses at the nursery, or been offered some of your neighbor’s asparagus or strawberry plants, there are a few tips to making sure you give them the best start in their new habitat. First, remove the wrapping, shake off soil or packing material, and give the root system a good look. It may be easiest to see what’s going on by giving them a brief soak in a bucket of water to rinse off soil or peat moss that is obscuring flaws. This can also help in re-hydrating them if they’ve dried out during their journey. Trim off any broken or skinned roots cleanly. Many people swear by vitamin B solutions or other root treatments; just follow the directions on the package. If you can’t plant immediately, keep the plants cool and heel them in by covering them with moist soil, potting mix, or peat moss.

Dig a planting hole as deep as the longest root and twice as wide as the whole root ball. Mix any amendments or fertilizers you wish into the soil you removed from the hole. Shovel a small mound of this soil back into the center of the hole and position the plant on top of it, spreading the roots out evenly on all sides. While supporting the plant with one hand, scoop soil in and tamp down to fill all voids around and under the roots. Continue filling the hole until you reach the crown of the plant, keeping the plant at the same level as it was before being dug up. Make a small berm around the planting hole and water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots.

Tips • Enjoy the first wave of winter-flowering aloes. • Cut back ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus and Pennisetum to just a few inches above the ground. They will begin fresh growth in a month or so. • Bring your living Christmas tree in for 10 days or less and keep away from heaters and fireplaces. • Transplant camellias now. Keep as much of the root ball intact as possible and water thoroughly, but don’t keep them too soggy. Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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