How to plant bare-root roses, trees and hedging

Val Bourne / 14 October 2015

Gardening expert Val Bourne explains the pros and cons of bare-root plants, and how to grow bare-root roses, trees and hedging.



What are bare-root plants?

Roses, ornamental trees, shrubs and hedging plants are lifted from the grower’s field in autumn, once they lose their leaves, and are dispatched straight away without any heavy soil on their roots. 

Postage is far more economical and bare-root plants don’t suffer any stress as they begin to grow away again in the spring. They root quickly, straight into the ground.

Pros and cons of bare-root plants

Pros

  • Bare-root is very eco-friendly because there is no plastic pot.
  • Postage costs are less.
  • More varieties of roses are available as bare root plants than in containers.
  • Plants establish faster, without being cosseted.
  • Planting can be done in the winter time, freeing you up for other tasks later in the year.

Cons

  • Choice trees and shrubs are less available in bare-root. If you are chasing something desirable you may have to buy a container-grown one. It will be more expensive and it should be planted in spring, not during winter. Water it well in the first season.

If you buy a container-grown plant now, keep it in a sheltered position away from heavy rain, before planting in the spring.

When to plant bare-root roses, trees and hedging

The months between November and March are perfect for bare-root planting, because many deciduous, woody plants are entering a period of dormancy.

How to plant bare-root roses, trees and hedging

Order your plants from a good supplier and prepare your ground. Cover the whole area with cardboard or old carpet, to keep the frost out, and then unpack your plants quickly and get them straight in, as long as the ground is not cold and wet.

Dig a generous hole, despite the fact that your plant may look like a stick. Add some garden compost if possible.

Spread the roots out into the hole and position the plant appropriately. You should bury your plant up to the height it had been growing before, which should be visible on the stem. A cane is useful here - lay it across the hole and line it up with your plant's stem.

Back fill the hole, adding bonemeal or growmore, tread the roots in firmly and water well.

I have not found mycorrhizal fungi makes any difference, although some have replanted roses into their gardens into the same position with success. So it may cure this problem.

Trees will need a stake and tie and these are best ordered from the nursery, one for each tree. You may also need rabbit guards.

Do not plant if the soil is too wet and cold. If the weather’s against you, unpack them and either make a slit trench with your spade, in a sheltered place, or store your plants in a frost-free place. The roots must be kept damp and cool. 

Plant as soon as the weather improves. Add organic matter on lighter soils, such as well-rotted compost, but not manure as it can scorch the roots. Sprinkle growmore or Bonemeal into the hole to encourage good roots, back fill, firm with your feet and water well.

Planting bare-root roses

Most roses are grafted onto a root stock and the bumpy union graft is visible just above the roots. Modern root stocks tend not to sucker, although old ones did, so modern thinking recommends burying the rootstock two to three inches (up to 7cm) below the soil surface. This anchors the rose and prevents it from suffering from wind rock.

Cut the rose back hard after planting, again to discourage wind rock, and to encourage new growth from the base. This creates a better shape.

If the roots are difficult to cover and overlong, they can be trimmed back so that they lie in the hole well.

Planting bare-root fruit trees

Lots of varieties of fruit are available as bare-root specimens, although in small numbers.

Grafts on fruit trees are up to six inches above the roots and the graft needs to be above the ground to prevent suckering.

You will also need to stake and tie young trees.

Use a specialist nursery and always plant more than one apple or pear variety so that cross pollination occurs. Different varieties flower at different times and they are put into four pollination groups. Check that your varieties are in the same group. A crab apple will also pollinate your fruit trees.

Varieties of top fruit (eg apples and pears) vary and some are localised and only do well in certain areas. Ask advice when choosing because pears, for instance, prefer warmer locations. They struggle in my garden.

Read Val Bourne's guides on growing apple trees and pear trees.

Planting bare-root ornamental trees

Many are grafted and the graft must be well above the soil, to prevent suckering.

Follow the general planting advice and always stake and tie a new tree.

Give choice plants a prominent position so that they shine.

Don’t over plant an area.

For more about planting trees, read our guide to planting a tree.

Planting bare-root hedging

Research hedges carefully because some are far more labour intensive than others. Cherry laurel for instance, Prunus lusitanica, will need three trims per year at least. Beech (Fagus sylvatica) needs one and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) can also cope with one. However they enjoy very different conditions. Hornbeam copes well in damp soil. Beech prefers drier conditions.

Buckingham Nursery have an excellent website and they also have mature display hedges on their nursery. These experts will also offer advice.

Native hedging, such as hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) attracts wildlife in droves, so a native hedge full of edible sloes, haws and berries is very wildlife friendly.

Thinking of Yew (Taxus baccata), but afraid that this is too slow. Think again, for within ten years you’ll have a hedge. Prepare the soil well, space at the desired 15 -25cm ( up to 9 inches) and then feed during every growing season. Do not take the top out until the desired height is reached, just trim the sides.

Find out how to choose the best hedge for your garden.

Special offer on bare-root roses

Saga has teamed up with Jersey Plants to bring you a selection of four beautiful bare-root roses for just £16.99 with free p&p. Find out more about this exclusive offer.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.