iGrow: Bare-root plants an option online – Sioux Falls Argus Leader
I love to get the newest plants in the garden, but those plants often are difficult to find at a garden center or discount outlet store. That is where specialty catalogs and websites come into play.
The catch is that in most cases you won’t be getting a large potted plant ready to take off in your garden but likely a bare-root plant instead. While those bare-root plants might be a little smaller, they can be an economical way to get the plants you are really looking for.
A bare-root plant is just what it sounds like: a plant with bare roots, not growing in a container. Usually it comes with the roots wrapped in some moist materials, such as shredded paper or peat moss, then wrapped in plastic. It’s often cheaper to buy plants this way, particularly when you consider it is much less expensive than to ship a potted plant that will be much heavier, need a larger box and demand more in shipping costs. Bare-root plants also are less likely to be damaged during shipping because they usually don’t have leaves yet, just roots and some stems. But bare-root plants will need some extra care from you, particularly if they are not shipped at planting time.
Usually when you order bare-root plants, the company asks for your USDA Hardiness Zone, which is Zone 4 for most of South Dakota. The company probably has a typical shipping window for Zone 4, which in most cases works just fine. If the plants happen to come a little too early, keep them in a cool location, around 40 degrees if possible, such as an old refrigerator.
When the plants arrive, open up the packaging and check them. The packing material around the roots should still be moist but not dripping wet. If it seems dry and you are not going to plant them for a few days, sprinkle a little water on it to moisten up again. Repack and store in a cool place until you are ready to plant. If these are bare-root trees, the packing material on the roots is the most important, but it’s good to keep the tops of the trees cool and not exposed to drying conditions, too.
Bare-root trees are fairly easy to plant. First, examine the root system to see how large it is. Use a sharp pruning shears to remove any badly damaged or broken roots. Keep the roots covered and moist while you are digging the hole. It doesn’t take long for the fine, feeder roots to dry out and die on a warm, sunny day. Make sure you dig the hole large enough in diameter to easily accommodate the roots without having to cram them into the hole. Dig the hole deeply enough to accommodate the roots but just deep enough so that when you spread the roots out in the hole, the top-most root will be just below the soil surface when you refill the hole.
Position the tree in the hole. It is helpful to have someone help hold the tree while you start to refill the hole. Use the same soil that you dug out to refill the hole. Adding lots of amendments such as compost or peat moss have proven not to be that beneficial in the long term. It is better to get the tree re-established in its own existing soil than creating a small “pot” of growing media that is very different from the surrounding soil. Firm the soil, then water thoroughly.
One challenge gardeners can have when their plants arrive is clearly seeing which end is up with some bare-root perennials. Often you just see a mass of roots with a few buds connected to the central part or crown of the plant. Check to see whether any planting instructions are included to help you determine the proper planting depth. Generally, the buds should be oriented upward and positioned about an inch or two below the soil surface. Some plants such as peonies will not flower well if they are planted too deeply.
Prepare the planting hole so it is wide enough to easily accommodate the roots. Spread them out and cover with soil. It is a good idea to put in a marker or stake with the plant’s name on it so you will remember what and where you planted the new bare-root plants.
Horticulture questions? Submit gardening questions to the Ask-an-Expert section at iGrow.org. An Extension horticulture professional or a master gardener will reply.
David Graper is an Extension horticulture specialist and director of McCrory Gardens in Brookings.
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