Bare-Root Stock Arrives For Winter

Bare roots might fail to impress.

Spring is overrated. It is obviously the best season for planting warm season vegetables and bedding plants. It is the most colorful season with more flowers in bloom. There is so much more to gardening though. Most plants prefer autumn planting. Some prefer winter planting. That is why this present bare-root season will be so relevant all through winter.

Dormancy is an advantage to stressful procedures such as planting. Spring bulbs prefer autumn or early winter planting while they are most dormant. For the same reason and to avoid late frost, summer bulbs prefer later winter planting. It should be no surprise that so many deciduous woody plants likewise prefer dormant planting during bare-root season.

Bare-root season is simply when bare-root stock becomes available for planting through winter. Unlike more familiar canned (potted) stock, bare-root stock lacks the medium that it grew in. Their roots are literally bare. Most bare-root stock awaits purchase at nurseries with its roots resting within damp sand. Roots of some are bagged within damp sawdust.

Bare-root stock is innately more practical than typical canned stock. It is significantly less expensive. It is much less cumbersome, and therefore easier to transport from nurseries. Planting is easier within much smaller planting holes. Formerly bare roots disperse new roots into their garden soils more efficiently than crowded formerly canned root systems.

Deciduous fruit trees and roses are the most popular of bare-root stock. Most of such fruit trees are stone fruits and pomme fruits. Stone fruits include almond, apricot, cherry, plum, prune, peach and nectarine, as well as their unusual hybrids. All stone fruits are species of the genus, Prunus. Pomme fruits include apple, pear, Asian pear and perhaps quince.

Fig, pomegranate and persimmon trees should also be available. So should grapevines, currants, gooseberries, blueberries and various cane berries. Strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus are perennials that are available bare-root. Except for almond, most nut trees, including English walnut, pecan, filbert or chestnut, may be available only by mail order. Most mail order catalogs are online now.

Six on Saturday: Before Winter

Autumn is the season for planting. For portions of the landscapes that lack irrigation, we must wait until the beginning of the rainy season. By the time the rainy season ends next spring, new plants should be outfitted with irrigation, or sufficiently established to need none. Now that the weather got rainy, as well as windy and messy, planting is facilitated by a sale at one of our suppliers. We normally do not purchase much, but the prices were too good to ignore. I did not get enough pictures, so added random pictures, such as the shabby bearded iris foliage. The important details of #5 are difficult to distinguish.

1. Scout at least tried to cooperate for a picture, which is more than Rhody does. He just does not know how to cooperate. He was too wiggly to get a picture that was not blurred.

2. Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’, weeping blue Atlas cedar is an oddly limber trophy tree that my colleague here had wanted for a while, but could not justify procurement of.

3. Pinus strobus ‘Nana’, dwarf Eastern white pine was not planned, but like the weeping blue Atlas cedar, was unusually affordable. There are eight in a row. Mugo pine are next.

4. Iris X germanica, bearded iris start growing prior to shedding old foliage of last year, so now look shabby. This is the pallid white and potentially feral iris in the new iris bed.

5. Wind is messy! Those two diagonal trunks just above and to the right of the middle of this picture were not diagonal earlier. Those headlights to the lower left are on a bridge.

6. Rain is messy also! This is a spillway of a drainage pond at work. While the sycamores and other deciduous trees continue to defoliate, it can get partially clogged and flooded.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

These four pictures below are not affiliated with the Six on Saturday above, but at the request of one of his most enthusiastic fans, were added to compensate for the lack of a picture of Rhody, the star of my blog. I had assumed that he was being uncooperative with my attempts to get a good picture, but he reminded me of what his fans really want to see. Can you guess what the last picture shows?

Spring Bulbs Begin In Autumn

Daffodil bloom is not in season, but their dormant bulbs will be soon.

Even before winter begins, it is time to plan for it to end. Bulbs (including corms, tubers, rhizomes and tuberous roots) of many of the earliest spring flowers that bloom while the weather is still cool late in winter should begin to get planted about now. They are still dormant and not all that impressive yet, but have already stored everything they need to be ready to bloom as soon as they think it is time. Since the weather will be getting cooler through autumn before it gets warmer at the end of winter, even the earliest blooming of spring bulbs will stay dormant for a while, and have quite a bit of time to slowly disperse roots before their foliage eventually peeks through the soil.

Bulbs planted later will likely bloom later, which is actually an advantage for ‘phasing’ bulbs. Like vegetables, bulbs can be planted in phases every two or three weeks, depending on the duration of the bloom cycle of the particular bulbs involved. As one group finishes blooming, the next group starts blooming. Bulbs become available when it is time for them to be planted, and generally remain available long enough for a few phases to get added later when convenient, although there is always the threat of particular varieties getting sold out later in the season.

Phasing is only effective in the first season, since bulbs get established after their first bloom cycle, and will subsequently be on the same schedule as all their friends of the same variety. Bearded iris, calla, anemone and rananculus are not conducive to phasing, but instead bloom at a particular time, regardless of when they were planted.

Narcissus, daffodil, grape hyacinth, bearded iris and classic white callas are the most reliable of spring bulbs, and the most likely to naturalize, although bearded iris and callas will probably bloom quite late in their first year. Crocus, freesia and harlequin flower are almost as easy to grow. Anemone, rananculus, hyacinth, lily, tulip and the small colorful callas are tempting, but are not as reliable after their first year because the seasons are so mild here.

Planting Bare Root Stock Properly

It looks like sticks in mud.

Bare root season began as the Christmas season ended. Literally, as the last Christmas trees relinquished their space in nurseries, bare root stock occupied it. Most of this stock grew in Oregon, where winter weather is cooler, so was ready for digging and relocation prior to arrival. Now that it is here, the season for planting bare root stock is quite limited.

Almost all bare root stock is deciduous. It defoliated through autumn, so the stems are as bare as the roots are. Most bare root stock is fruit and nut trees, such as almond, apricot, cherry, plum, peach, apple, pear, persimmon and fig. Grape, currant, gooseberry, wisteria and rose are ready for planting bare root too. All are dormant, so unaware of the process. 

They do not stay dormant for long though. They must be planted in their new homes prior to the end of winter, when warming spring weather stimulates new growth. They can not sustain such growth if their roots are unable to disperse into soil. This is why the season for relocating and planting bare root stock is so limited to winter. It relies on cool weather. 

Fortunately, planting bare root stock is surprisingly simple. Soil amendment that prompts root growth away from confined root systems of canned (potted) stock is not so important. Since new roots grow directly from formerly bare roots into surrounding soil, amendment is only helpful for soil of inferior quality. Fertilizer will not be helpful until growth resumes. 

A hole for planting bare root stock needs to be just big enough to contain the flared roots. It must be shallow enough to suspend any graft union above grade, without loose soil to settle below. Watering is only needed to soak and settle soil around roots, and will not be needed again until after the rainy season. Pruning removes crowded or damaged stems. 

Of course, not all fruit trees are conducive to planting bare root. Evergreen plants are not as dormant during winter as deciduous plants are. Their roots are therefore less resilient to separation from the soil. Pitahaya, avocado and some citrus, which can be marginally vulnerable to frost in some climates, are more vulnerable after autumn or winter planting. 

Get Bare In Winter

Besides the popular deciduous fruit trees and roses, several deciduous ornamentals, like these clematis vines, are also available bare root.

It may not seem like the middle of winter is a good time for much gardening, but now that any unsold Christmas trees have been removed from nurseries, bare roots plants are moving in. They should be available through the rest of winter, until warming spring weather prompts bloom and emergence of new foliage.

As the name implies, ‘bare root’ plants have bare roots. They are not contained within potting media (soil) in cans or pots. Some are wrapped in coarse sawdust to keep roots moist and contained without much weight. Others are simply heeled into damp sand at nurseries where they can be dug and wrapped when purchased.

Without cumbersome cans, bare root plants occupy less space in nurseries, so many more varieties of fruit trees, grapes, roses, berries and various ornamentals can be available bare root than could be available as standard canned stock during the rest of the year. Bare root plants have the added advantage of costing about half of what canned stock costs.

The main advantage of bare root plants though, is that they waste no time getting established in the garden. The process of getting dug, transported and replanted is done while plants are dormant. When they wake in their new homes in the spring, they immediately start to disperse new roots into the surrounding soil.

If bare root plants can not go directly into the garden once they arrive home, they should be heeled into damp soil or mulch and watered. If planting will be delayed only for a day or two, they can instead be put in a bucket of water to submerge the roots. Plants that are packaged in bags of damp sawdust can wait for more than a week in the shade.

Planting holes need not be any larger than the roots of the bare root plants. If soil is disturbed too deeply, it will only settle and possibly cause new plants to sink. Graft unions (which are evident as kinks low on trunks of trees, or where rose plants branch) should stay above the surface of the soil. Backfill soil should be amended only minimally, or not at all. Too much amendment inhibits root dispersion. (Roots may not want to leave amended soil.) There will be plenty of rain through winter. However, new plants should be soaked twice after planting to settle soil around the roots.

Finally, damaged or unnecessary stems can be pruned off. Bare root fruit trees come with more stems than they need, for padding in transportation, and to allow more options for pruning.

Six on Saturday: After (And Before) The Storm

Rhody and something flowery are lacking from my Six on Saturday again. We got some good rain though, after the horrid wind that I wrote about earlier. That is worth bragging about. Prior to rain, I try to plant what needs to be planted, so that it can get soaked in by the rain. This technique is particularly important where there is no irrigation.

1. Banana slug, mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, magically appear as the annual rainy season begins. I do not know where they go for summer, but they do not go quickly.

2. Mud also arrives with rain. This mud was formerly a baseball field. It is now where we dump storm debris. Others of our crew thought it was fun to do donuts, . . . which is why I got stuck.

3. Sweeping storm debris from so much pavement here takes ingenuity. The bare tractor bucket damages old asphalt. This mattress was surprisingly effective, but difficult to sleep on later.

4. Coast live oak seedling grew where a squirrel buried an acorn with a potted epiphyllum. I pulled the seedling out, and plugged it by the roadside, where a new coast live oak would be nice.

5. Deodar cedar seedlings are abundant under a few mature trees here. Several have been plugged into landscapes. This one got plugged by the roadside with the coast live oak and cypress.

6. Arizona cypress seedlings are finally installed as an informal hedge on the roadside, with the coast live oak at one end, and two deodar cedars and the Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree at the other end. These five cypress had been canned for too long, so will be much happier in the ground where they can now disperse their roots. I am pleased with this new informal hedge.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Bare Root Stock Makes Sense

Snowball bush is available bare root.

Winter has potential to be a slow season for gardening. Simple gardens may not require much dormant pruning. Established gardens may not require much planting. Where winters are cold and perhaps snowy, no one wants to go outside anyway. Those who go out may not be able to accomplish much. Nonetheless, winter is the season for planting bare root stock, which is now available.

Bare root stock starts to move into nurseries before the last Christmas trees move out. Growers start to dig and package it as it goes dormant for winter. They separate it completely from the soil it grew in, leaving the roots bare. Some bare root stock is available with bags of damp sawdust protecting its roots. Most goes into bins of damp sand to protect the roots while at retail nurseries.

Unlike canned (potted) nursery stock, bare root stock must get into the garden as soon as possible. It will not survive long if it gets warm enough to start growing prior to planting. Nor will it survive if roots desiccate. Unbagged bare root stock can soak in water for a limited time. For planting, roots should flare outwardly. Soil amendment should be limited. Graft unions must be above grade.

Bare root stock is lightweight, compact, and easy to handle in bulk. Therefore, it is less expensive than canned stock. It is also easier to get home and plant. Because so many individual plants fit into limited space, many more cultivars are available from nurseries. Even more are available by mail order. Bare root stock disperses roots and gets growing more efficiently than canned stock.

Deciduous fruit trees might be the most popular bare root stock. This includes apple, pear, persimmon, fig, mulberry, walnut, pomegranate and the stone fruits. (Apricot, cherry, peach, plum, prune and nectarine are stone fruits.) Grape, currant, gooseberry, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bare root stock are also available. So are perennial rhubarb, asparagus, artichoke and strawberry.

Ornamental bare root stock includes rose, snowball bush, forsythia, wisteria, flowering crabapple, poplar and many more.

Six on Saturday: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

2021 was already a popular year before it got started. Many wanted 2020 to end, as if all the unpleasantries of last year would end with it. To me, the first day of this year seemed to be just like any of the few last days of last year. That is not necessarily bad. There was quite a bit of good last year, even with all of the unpleasantries. Many of us see examples of it in our gardens.

Well, these pictures happen to be from yesterday, the first day of January and 2021.

1. Eucalyptus sideroxylon, red ironbark, is the first tree I planted in 2021, on New Year’s Day. It died back last spring, and regenerated with shrubby growth, so got pruned to a single trunk.

2. It should be glad to be out of its can, and into a new home. It originated as a root sucker of a tree that had been cut down. It came up with roots when I pulled it, so could not be discarded.

3. Agave attenuata, foxtail agave, got run over on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. It was not crossing the road, but just minding its own business in a median. I could not leave it there like that.

4. It should be happy here. Adventitious roots are already developing on the trunk. A small section of the base of the trunk was cut off and canned so that new pups could mature separately.

5. Hedychium gardnerianum, Kahili ginger, originated from a neglected landscape near where the red ironbark eucalyptus originated from. Foliage from last year will shrivel through winter.

6. Quercus lobata, valley oak, is the Memorial Tree, and is the first tree that I pruned in 2021. It is developing well. I will return to stabilize the lodgepole stake, and adjust the binding stake.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Spring Bulbs Begin In Autumn

Spring bulbs bloom months from now.

Spring bulbs lack immediate gratification. They will, of course, justify their habitation of the garden as they bloom next spring. For now, they are not much to look at, and do not stay visible for long. While dormant, they poses neither foliage nor significant roots. Most look something like small and disfigured onions. Burial in shallow graves conceals their uninteresting exteriors through winter.

Cool season bedding plants can effectively obscure the otherwise bare soil over the grave sites of some types of bulbs. Mulch might be best for those that should start to grow immediately or that will develop an abundance of foliage. While plants above them may need watering until the rainy season begins, dormant spring bulbs need no more attention. They disperse roots through winter.

Spring bulbs, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, are oblivious to the discomforts of transplant while dormant. However, they want to wake from their dormancy in situations that are conducive to normal development and bloom. Some prefer shallow planting. Others require significant depth for stability. Most but not all spring bulbs perform best in small groups or colonies.

Narcissus, daffodil and crocus are the first spring bulbs to bloom as winter ends, or even earlier. Tulip, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, freesia, anemone, ranunculus and some types of iris bloom shortly afterward. Late iris, lily and montbretia bloom later, and some types are considered to be summer bulbs. Spring bulbs become available in nurseries while seasonable. Summer bulbs arrive later.

Most spring bulbs bloom only once. Plaiting them in phases a few weeks apart within their respective seasons can prolong bloom. Each subsequent phase begins bloom as the preceding phase finishes. However, narcissus, daffodil, grape hyacinth and others that can naturalize will bloom simultaneously after their first season. Most spring bulbs unfortunately do not naturalize reliably here.

Gladiolus and allium are summer bulbs that bloom once. Calla, canna and dahlia bloom through summer.

Summer Is Not For Planting

P00104K
New plants are less reliant on irrigation if installed at the beginning of the rainy season.

Autumn is the time for planting. Cooling weather slows plants down so that they do not mind disruption so much. Increasing rain (hopefully) keeps the soil evenly moist while roots slowly disperse. The combination of cooling weather, increasing rain and shorter days keeps plants well hydrated so they can slowly ease into spring.

Why is this important now? Well, it probably is not important. It merely demonstrates why this is not the best time for planting. Only a few warm season annuals and vegetables get planted this time of year. Seeds for certain autumn vegetables get sown now. Otherwise, more substantial plants should wait until autumn if possible.

Mid summer in some ways is the opposite of autumn. While the weather is warm, plants are too active to be bothered. Even minor disruption can be stressful. Soil moisture provided by irrigation is often too irregular and unreliable for dispersion of many new roots. There is less time to recover from stress during shorter nights.

Smaller plants and seeds survive summer planting better than larger plants do. Seeds need to disperse all new roots anyway, so they  will adapt to what they get. They certainly need regular watering, but are quite talented at putting their roots wherever the moisture goes. With a bit more time, smaller plants will do the same.

Larger plants have more difficulty with the planting process because they need to disperse so many more roots to get established. When they get planted, all their roots are initially confined to the volume of media (potting soil) that they were grown in. They are susceptible to whatever happens within  that limited volume.
For example, a small plant in a four inch wide pot is initially confined to less than sixty-four cubic inches of soil. It can double its soil volume to one hundred forty-four cubic inches by merely dispersing roots less than one inch laterally. A tree in a 24-inch wide box needs to disperse roots ten inches laterally to do the same!
It would seem that drought tolerant plants would be less susceptible to the stress of planting in summer.

However, they are more sensitive because they are so reliant on extensive root dispersion. Until they disperse their roots, they actually need to be watered as frequently as other plants do.