31225thumbAnyone who has had undergone surgery knows the advantages of unconsciousness. Any frat boy who woke up after a night of overly indulgent inebriation, with his face adorned with objectionable graffiti, knows the disadvantages. A lot can happen while one is unaware that it is happening. This is exactly why so many bare root plants become available while they are dormant through winter.

Bare root plants get dug and deprived of the soil that their roots grew in, leaving the roots bare. Some get their roots packaged into bags of damp sawdust. Others get their roots heeled into bins of damp sand in retail nurseries. Roots are only bagged or heeled in to stay fresh. They get pulled from their sand or separated from their bag of sawdust when ultimately planted into the garden.

It might seem violent, but it all happens while the plants are dormant and unaware of what is happening. They go to sleep happily rooted into the ground wherever they grew, and then wake up in a home garden somewhere else. It only takes a short while to get reoriented before they develop new foliage and new roots as if nothing ever happened. The whole process is surprisingly efficient.

Canned (potted) plants are actually less efficient in some ways. They are bulkier and therefore more difficult to bring home from the nursery. Their confined roots are more likely to be disfigured or binding. (Roots that wrap around the inside of a can will constrict on themselves as they grow.) The media (potting soil) could contain disease. Worst of all, canned stock is much more expensive.

Bare root plants are remarkably easy to plant. Their planting holes only need to be big enough to contain the roots. Soil amendment should be minimal. If too much amendment is added, or holes are too deep, new plants are likely to sink. Graft unions (the distinctive ‘kinks’ just above the roots) of grafted trees must remain above grade. Roots should be spread out laterally and downward.

Smaller bare root plants like cane berries, grapevines, gooseberry and currant are already moving into nurseries where Christmas trees are relinquishing their space. Fruit trees like apricot, cherry, plum, prune, peach, nectarine, almond, apple, pear, quince, fig, pomegranate and persimmon will arrive next, followed by blueberry and roses. Poplar, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple, forsythia, lilac, wisteria, rhubarb, strawberry and asparagus might also be available.


12 thoughts on “Bare Root Stock Has Advantages

    1. Not many plants are available as bare root stock. Almost all evergreen plants should be canned. Bare root only works for plants that have a good dormancy. If there is a choice of canned or bare root, nurseries might prefer to sell canned stock because they make more money from it.


      1. Well I purchased blackberry and raspberry canes, apple and persimmon trees bare root and they are doing much better than the potted stuff I planted at the same time. I think the difference is that the root hairs are developed in potting soil and therefore not as hardy as the root hairs that develop in the native soil. What do you think?

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      2. All of those should be planted as bare root. The cane berries replace themselves annually anyway, so there is not much in the can that is of any use. Although some of their roots (and all of the perennial root crown) survive from year to year, not many survive in a can over winter. I know it sounds weird, but it is easier for them to make new ones than keep old ones alive in can media. For the others, it is also easier for them to produce new roots than for old roots to recover from the can and adapt to a new environment. Root hairs are easily replaced as needed.


  1. Also the nursery I frequent gets many of their fruit trees shipped in bare root, then pot them up to sell right away. The only way I can manage to get them bare root is if I just so happen to be at the nursery when a shipment arrives.

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  2. Good post. I vary between ordering bare root and potted plants. In a lot of ways bare root makes more sense. You may actually be getting more plant for your money. But potted plants tend to be a lot more emotionally satisfying.

    Liked by 1 person

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