The best time to plant bare root trees and shrubs is in autumn or early- to mid-winter. Ideally, just around the time the leaves have fallen.

The soil is still warm then and roots have time to grow for a while. The roots will continue to grow even though the tops are dormant when soil temperatures remain above 40 °F (4 °C).

These conditions aid in the establishment and the plants get a head start before spring. This is especially the case if the spring turns dry and hot.

In areas where winters are harsh and the ground becomes frozen, spring planting is preferred, especially for tender trees and shrubs like fruit trees and berries.

You should plant these trees/shrubs as early in the spring as possible after the soil has dried sufficiently and to when the temperatures start to pick up.

Note: You must plant your bare root plants while they are still dormant! If they are planted after their leaves have started to grow they will experience transplant shock as feeder roots start to grow. This can stunt both the upper tree and root development.

What you’ll need?

Estimated cost: variable

  1. Trees/shrubs (see Planting Prep)
  2. Shovel
  3. Kelp extract 
  4. Molasses
  5. Rock Powder (rock phosphate and/or Azomite)
  6. Mycorrhizal inoculum/indigenous micro-organisms
  7. Cardboard
  8. Tree/Shrub-guards (perforated spiral trees-guard/wire mesh)
  9. Fungal Compost
  10. (Ramial) Woodchips


How to Plant Trees/Shrubs


Estimated time: 10 min per tree/shrub (varies depending on the hole size and your physical capabilities) 

STEP 1: Prep the trees/shrubs

  • Unwrap the roots of your plants and soak for 20 mins in kelp/molasses solution while you’re prepping your planting hole. This will help reduce transplant stress since kelp and molasses are rich in micro-nutrients and trace elements and fungal hyphae in the surrounding soil are encouraged to rapidly connect to the sugary sweet roots.
  • Alternatively, soak the roots a bucket of kelp/molasses solution the night before planting but don’t leave roots soaking for more than 24 hours.


STEP 2: Dig a proper Hole

  • When planting, it’s important to dig a large enough hole, so that the roots don’t get squashed up or bent while trying to fit them into the hole.
  • It’s best to custom-dig each planting hole after assessing the width and depth of the root system for each specific plant. The width of the hole should be twice as wide as the root diameter. This will give you room to work around the plant when you’re spreading the roots, backfilling and adjusting the position of the plant.
  • Lightly serrating the sides of the planting holes and the sides of the bottom of the hole with a spading fork helps roots get out of the planting hole more easily, especially in fine, wet or compacted soils (see picture below). Growing roots need to readily penetrate into the surrounding soil; otherwise, they may circle around the glazed bowl that can inadvertently result from clay particle adhesion caused by digging the hole.

 Note: Digging a hole significantly larger than the roots preps the immediate soil zone for root outreach.


STEP 3: Check the hole depth and ground level 

  • Digging the hole to the right depth is important, as backfilled soil settles significantly after watering, and this can lead to crown rot and undesired rooting.
  • As you dig, check the measures, always make sure that you keep the graft union of your trees above ground level at 4 inches (10 cm), otherwise the union will establish its own roots if buried, which overrides the desired rootstock effect.
  • Trees on seedling roots are the one exception: The graft union can be buried if you wish to encourage self-rooting of the scion cultivar.


STEP 4: Apply recommended doses of mycorrhizal fungi/indigenous micro-organisms to bare roots

  • Sprinkle in mycorrhizal inoculant, or dip the roots in a mycorrhizal root dip! The fungal allies can increase the effective root zone of a young tree by hundreds of times in a matter of weeks.
  • You have two options to ensure mycorrhizal presence from the get-go: commercial fungal inoculate and captured indigenous micro-organisms.
  • Quality commercial inoculum is key. Check the farmer’s vault list of suppliers (coming soon) for reliable sources.
  • Soil from a healthy forest ecosystem works even better. A small amount of topsoil taken from the root zone of a wild fruit/nut tree should give your planted plants mycorrhizal species that are absolutely suited to your bioregion.


STEP 5: Spread the roots 

  • Spreading out the roots of the plant before backfilling the hole with soil will increase the volume of the soil the plant explores more rapidly. It saves the plant time and work and increases survival rates.
  • Once you put the tree/shrub into the hole the roots should radiate in all directions around the tree just as they grew in the nursery bed, thus improving anchorage and nutrient access from the outset

Note: Take into consideration how you are going to orient the plant. For example: facing the largest root, or the largest branches towards a wind-prevailing side is better for the stability of the plant. Facing the graft union towards dominant winds so that the tree pushes against the union is also recommended.


STEP 6: Backfill the hole and add amendments

  • Refill the hole with the soil you took out.
  • Unless your soil is really poor, you don’t need to add extra materials to the planting hole, especially if you’re planning on using mulch or cover crops as a soil management technique.
  • If your soil is poor, sprinkling the bottom with a little rock powder; rock phosphate (for early root development) and the same amount of Azomite (for trace nutrients) will be okay, but it’s preferable to put your fertility on top.
  • Backfill in layers, carefully firming the soil with downward pressure every 3 in (8 cm) to make sure you’re filling in all the voids so there are no air pockets, as they can block root growth. Once the hole is about two thirds full, fill it with water and jiggle the plant around and firm the soil with your hands to remove air pockets and settle the soil.

Note: Do not mix massive amounts of compost with the soil in the planting hole.  A super-enriched planting hole gives roots little reason to spread out, creating a ‘planting tomb’.


STEP 7: Install Protection

  • You’ll need to establish adequate protection for browsing pressure from rabbits, deer, etc. This can be challenging as, while fencing off the whole garden makes sense, it’s not cheap.
  • Individual plant protection may be a better solution. These include galvanized wire, plastic mesh tubes tied to stakes around each tree and perforated spiral tree guards.
  • Surrounding each tree with a wire or plastic mesh tube stuck into the ground 2-3 in (5-8 cm) up to the height of the average snow depth will help your trees greatly.


STEP 8: Add thick layers of mulch

  • Ideally, you want to knock back sod intrusion for several years and simultaneously feed the tree roots/microorganisms.
  • Use thick layers of newspaper or cardboard (1m2 minimum) to cut off light to any competing plants that may still be capable of making a comeback in the immediate area around the tree-planting hole.
  • Top dress with (10 l/2Gallons) fungal compost, and (one wheelbarrow or half for fruit canes) or ramial wood chips. This is the preferred mulch since you want to create and sustain fungal conditions.
  • Other mulches you can use include spoiled hay, leaves, leaf mould, grass mowing, mushroom compost, garden compost, chipped bark, capped wood…
  • For more detailed instructions on mulching newly planted trees see: Mulching

Note: Always keep mulch off the stem of tree, organic mulches right up against the trunk of the tree will retain too much moisture.




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