Now that nurseries and garden centers are no longer selling Christmas trees, they have plenty of room for bare root stock. All sorts of deciduous fruit trees, a few deciduous shade trees, shrubs and vines, and even a few perennials can now be purchased while dormant and without the cumbersome media (soil) that the roots need at all other times of the year. Not only is bare root stock easier to handle and transport in small cars, but it is also much less expensive than canned stock (that has roots contained in media, which is contained in nursery cans). Bare root stock typically costs about a third of what canned stock costs.
Bare root stock also has the advantage of adapting to new garden easier, since it does not need to leave the comfort zone of the media that it would have grown into (within a can) in order to venture out into unfamiliar soil. Instead, it starts to disperse roots into the new home soil immediately as it emerges from dormancy in late winter. Without cans, bare root stock can not get root bound. Instead of developing branch structure that is appealing to nursery marketing, bare root stock can get an early start on developing branch structure that is most practical and efficient for the gardens that it gets installed into.
It seems that all of the ´stone’ fruit can be found as bare root stock. These include apricot, cherry, plum, prune, peach, nectarine, almond (which is the seed, or ´stone’, of a peach like fruit) and the odd hybrids of these. The pomme fruits, apple, pear and quince, are perhaps the second most popular of bare root stock, although quince is still rather rare. Ornamental trees, shrubs and vines include flowering crabapple, flowering cherry, flowering quince, alder, poplar, willow, lilac, forsythia, wisteria and clematis. Perennials include rhubarb and artichoke.
Bare root stock can be purchased as soon as it becomes available, but does not do much until it starts to grow in spring. It should get planted quickly and soaked in, but will get more water than it needs from rain afterward. It should not need water again until after it blooms or gets new leaves in late winter or early spring. Despite guarantees of fruit in the first year, none should be expected. The few fruit trees that might set fruit will probably produce only useless underdeveloped fruit because new plants are busy producing new roots and growing. Actually though, this apples to canned stock as well, except only for citrus, olives and other evergreen fruit trees.