Bare Root and Root Ball Planting Season!

Thoughts and musings

Bare Root and Root Ball Planting Season!

Leigh | February 1, 2016 | 0 Comments

Though some readers may well have completed their bare-root and root-ball planting in the late autumn and early winter the ship has certainly not sailed for those who haven’t. Another prime time to plant your trees and shrubs is fast approaching, in the shape of the late winter and early spring.  To ensure the success of your bare-root and root-ball planting I have compiled some key do’s and don’ts.

For readers who are unsure of what I mean by bare-root and root-ball planting let me give you a brief explanation of the two terms:

Bare-root planting – exactly as the name suggests, planting with the roots exposed (bare).  Typically bare-root specimens are one-to-three years old, and they will be sold wrapped in polythene to prevent the fibrous roots drying out.

Root-ball planting – a method of planting where the root system is in a ball of soil or compost which is held in place by a fabric bag; upon planting the fabric bag will decompose allowing the roots to venture out into the neighbouring soil.  Larger semi-mature trees and some evergreens, especially conifers, are generally planted using this method.

The do’s.


  • It is important to remove all perennial weeds from the planting area.
  • The shape of the hole is not important except in heavy clay; if this is the case, research has shown that the edges of a square hole act as a guide for the roots to grow out from the hole.
  • Use a garden fork to loosen the soil at the base of your planting hole.  This will encourage the roots to spread and provide adequate drainage.


  • Make sure the root-ball is moist before planting; if necessary, leave it in a bucket of water for an hour before planting.  If it doesn’t fit in a bucket an extra-good watering upon planting should be sufficient.
  • For bare-roots, remove all packaging and soak the roots in a bucket for an hour.  Upon planting give them a good watering to help them bed in.
  • If you need to improve the soil you can either introduce some well rotted garden compost, well rotted farmyard manure, or any general purpose compost.
  • If the soil is very wet, you could add sharp sand or lime free course grit.
  • Always plant trees and shrubs at the same level they were in their pots, or in the case of bare-roots, up to the ‘high-tide’ mark left from the soil they were in at the nursery.
  • As it is late in the winter you may wish to consider using a good quality fertiliser.  This will reduce the time it takes for the plant to establish itself at the beginning of the growing season.


  • Water in well – even if rain is forecast.
  • We all know watering on a hot summer’s day is important, but it is equally important to water on a bright cold day.
  • Weeds or grass need to be kept way from your new tree or shrub for at least two to three years.
  • If the site is an exposed windy site it is advised to put up a temporary wind break until the plant is established.
  • Refer to any good gardening book or website with regards to pruning your particular plant.

The don’ts

  • Never plant when the soil is waterlogged or when frost is on the ground as buried ice can remain frozen for weeks and therefore hamper the root development.
  • If you need to plant when the weather is freezing make sure you cover the area with cardboard or plastic to keep out as much cold as possible
  • Do not forget to regularly water, throughout the first year in particular.  As mentioned above, it is obvious on a summer’s day but cold dry spells and wind can be equally fatal.

Happy planting!