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

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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.

Summer Vegetables Like Warming Weather

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Summer Vegetables Like Warming Weather

Tomato, pepper and eggplant plants should be out in the garden by now. They typically get planted only a few weeks after the last threat of frost, so that they can start to disperse their roots early. Growth above ground accelerates as the weather gets warmer. Fruit develops and ripens through summer.

These three types of vegetable plants get planted as seedlings for two main reasons. First, when they go into the garden, seedlings are bigger and more established than seeds that need to take time to grow are. Secondly, the cost of the few plants needed for an average garden is not much more than the cost of seeds.

Now, zucchini, melon and summer squash can be done either way. Not many plants are needed, so the expense of seedlings is minimal. However, seedlings are a bit more fragile than those of tomato, pepper and eggplant. Seeds grow so efficiently that they get established almost as readily as seedlings do, so are just as practical.

Regardless of how they get planted, the weather has been so odd this year that there has been only minimal advantage to planting seedlings and sowing seed on time. Tomato, pepper and eggplant plants that were planted early may not be much more mature than what could be planted now. Harvest will be delayed either way.

Bean, cucumber and corn all grow best from seed. Seedlings take more time to recover from transplant than seed take to germinate and grow. Besides, so many plants of each type are needed that seedlings would be expensive. A single package of seed is cheap and goes a long way, so is probably sufficient for an average garden.

Corn is one of those vegetables that produces on a rather tight schedule. Seed that gets sown at any particular time matures at the same rate, so that all the fruit finishes at about the same time. This is why corn gets sown in phases. If timed properly, a subsequent phase begins to produce as the preceding phase gets depleted.

Winter squash, including pumpkin, are similar to summer squash, although they are more tolerant of unusually cool spring weather. They too can either get planted as seedlings or sown as seed. They take their time to produce fruit that ripens by autumn, so have more time to catch up.

Crop Rotation For Home Gardens

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Pepper plants should get relocated annually.

Vegetable gardening is not permanent landscaping. With few exceptions, vegetable plants are annuals, like bedding plants. They do their respective jobs within only a few months. When finished, they relinquish their space to different vegetable plants of a different season. More of the same will be in season again in a few months. Crop rotation is something to consider when that happens.

Crop rotation is standard procedure for field crops involving several acres of the same variety of vegetable. Some crops grow on the same land for a few years. Some change annually. With few exceptions of big perennial vegetable plants, none stay in the same location for too long. Some fields go fallow for a season without production. Most simply produce a different type of vegetable.

Vegetables that grow for too long in the same soil eventually deplete some of the nutrients that they use most. Different types of vegetables deplete different types of nutrients. Crop rotation allows soil that was depleted by one type of vegetable to be used by another type that does not mind the depletion. While slowly depleted of a new set of nutrients, soil recovers from previous depletion.

For example, a sunny side of a fence is an ideal spot to grow pole beans. It is tempting to grow them there annually. However, they do not perform as well for a second season, and are likely to be scant for a third year. However, tomatoes appreciate what beans do to the soil, and do not miss what they took from it. After tomatoes take what they want for a season, beans are ready to return.

Crop rotation also helps to disrupt the proliferation of host-specific pathogens that overwinter in the soil and decomposing plant parts.

Generally, new vegetable plants should not be of the same family as vegetable plants that they replace in a particular location. Beans, squash, okra or corn should be happy where tomatoes grew last year. Peppers and eggplants are of the same plant family as tomatoes, so are likely to crave what the tomatoes already depleted. They are also susceptible to some of the same pathogens.

Planting Bare Root Stock Properly

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Bare root roses bloom next summer.

Most of the advantages of bare root stock are obvious. Bare root stock is less expensive and easier to work with in regard to installation and pruning to a desired form. What some of us may find difficult to understand is that it actually gets established into a new garden more efficiently than canned (potted) nursery stock does. As incredible as it seems, there are a few simple reasons why.

Instead of dispersing roots within the confinement of cans, bare root stock disperses roots directly an extensively into the soil into which it gets planted. Their initial deficiency of roots encourages them to do so quickly. Roots of canned stock must recover from confinement. Their new roots may be hesitant to leave the comfort of the extra rich medium in which their original roots developed.

The holes dug for planting bare root stock need not be much wider than the roots can be spread apart, and no deeper. If too deep, newly planted stock will sink as the loosened soil below settles. Grafted plants must not sink enough for their graft unions to be below grade. A cone formed of firmly pressed soil at the bottom of a planting hole can be useful for spreading roots out evenly over.

Rich soil needs no amendment. If compost is added to loosen dense soil, it should be as minimal as practical. Too much amendment will tempt roots to stay close rather than dispersing remotely. Fertilizer is not necessary immediately after planting. However, because the soil does not stay very cold here, and roots start growing before spring, mild fertilizer can be applied shortly afterward.

Finally, most bare root stock should be groomed and probably pruned after planting. Fruit trees are often sold with only minimal prior pruning. Superfluous stems function as packing material that buffers the ravages of transportation, and also provide more options for preliminary structural pruning. Aggressive pruning of plants that benefit from it concentrates resources for growth in spring.