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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