Keep bareroot trees moist and cool until planting
Tree roots must stay moist until planting time. If roots are at all dry upon arrival, submerge the root ball in a bucket of water for about eight hours.
Photo/Illustration: Linda Wesley
Immediately upon receiving a bareroot tree, I remove it from its packing to make sure the roots are still moist. Roots that seem at all dry need to be soaked in a bucket of water for about eight hours. It’s best to plant bareroot trees as soon as possible. One advantage of fall planting is that the buds will not awaken until spring, after the tree has experienced enough cool weather to sense that winter is over. In spring, a tree may be ready to grow before you are ready to plant it.
If I’m not ready to plant, I keep the roots moist. One way to keep roots damp is to repack them in moist material, perhaps the same packing material in which they arrived. Otherwise, moist autumn leaves, wood chips, or even shredded newspaper will suffice.
To prevent the tree from breaking its dormancy, you must keep it cool (ideally between 30° and 40°F). So, after wrapping the roots in packing material and plastic to hold in moisture, I put the plant in my unheated garage or against the north side of my house. Another way to hold a tree in good condition before planting is to heel it in. Simply dig a shallow hole—just deep enough for the roots—on the cool, north side of your house, and temporarily plant the tree there. I also have successfully held trees for planting by laying their roots on top of the ground and then covering them with a few inches of moist wood chips or leaves—once again, on the north side of my house.
Just before planting time, I inspect a tree’s roots once more, cutting off any that are dead, diseased, or broken. Cleanly cutting frayed ends reduces the surface area of wounds, so that healing is quicker and risk of root disease is reduced. I also shorten any roots that will be too long to splay out into the planting hole. Or else I dig a bigger hole to accommodate them. If the tree has been in storage, I immerse the roots in water again for a couple of hours before planting. To keep the roots from drying out when taking a tree to its planting site, I carry it in a bucket of water or with its roots wrapped in moist burlap.