Planting Bare Root Fruit Trees: A Comprehensive Guide

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There’s an immense sense of satisfaction that stems from planting a tree and observing it grow, thrive, and produce fruit for years to come. One way to embark on this gratifying journey is to plant a bare root tree. In this extensive guide, we’ll explore the realm of bare root fruit trees – what they are, their advantages, and how to plant and care for them to ensure a healthy, abundant harvest. If you’re curious about how to plant a bare root tree, you’ve landed on the right page!

What Are Bare Root Trees?

So, what is a bare root tree, and what is bare root planting? The term “bare root” refers to trees that are sold without soil surrounding their roots. They are typically unearthed when dormant, their roots meticulously cleaned, and then shipped or sold without any soil, hence the term “bare root planting.” This method has been employed for centuries and offers several benefits over container-grown or balled and burlapped trees, which we’ll examine in the following section.

Advantages of Bare Root Trees

When deciding whether to plant a bare root fruit tree or choose a potted one, it’s crucial to consider the pros and cons. But, are bare root trees superior? In many instances, yes! There are several benefits to selecting bare root trees over potted ones, which we’ll discuss in this section as we compare bare root trees vs potted trees:

• Price: Bare root trees are generally more affordable than their potted counterparts, making them an appealing option for budget-minded gardeners.

• Adaptability: Since they’re sold without soil, bare root trees are more likely to acclimate to your garden’s distinct soil conditions, encouraging healthier, more vigorous root growth.

• Variety: Bare root trees offer a broader range of fruit tree species and cultivars than potted trees, providing you with a greater selection to pick from.

• Simpler planting: Without a cumbersome root ball to manipulate, bare root trees are lighter and more manageable during planting, especially for those with limited strength or mobility.

• Quicker establishment: Bare root trees tend to settle in more rapidly than container-grown trees, as they don’t experience “transplant shock” from being removed from a pot.

In the upcoming sections, we’ll discuss how to choose the finest bare root fruit trees, store them before planting, and ensure their successful growth and maturation.

Selecting Bare Root Fruit Trees

When embarking on planting a bare root fruit tree, selecting the ideal tree is vital for your success. Here are some criteria to consider when picking a high-quality bare root fruit tree:

  • Species and variety: Select a tree species and variety that will flourish in your climate and soil conditions. Take into account factors like chill hours, disease resistance, and pollination needs.
  • Tree dimensions: Opt for a tree that has been pruned to a manageable size, preferably between 3-6 feet tall. This will encourage healthy root development and simplify planting and maintenance.
  • Root system: Examine the roots, ensuring they are moist, fibrous, and well-branched. Steer clear of trees with dry, brittle, or blackened roots, as they may not establish well.
  • Tree age: Younger trees (1-2 years old) are generally more adaptable and quicker to settle in than older trees. They may take longer to bear fruit but will often yield better harvests in the long run.
  • Graft quality: If the tree is grafted, ensure that the graft union is neat, well-healed, and free of any damage or disease.

Storing Bare Root Trees Before Planting

Once you’ve chosen your bare root tree, you may be wondering, “how long can I keep bare root trees before planting?” Ideally, you should plant your tree as soon as feasible. However, if you must store it before planting, follow these guidelines:

  • Keep the roots moist: Wrap the roots in damp peat moss, sawdust, or newspaper, ensuring they don’t dry out.
  • Store in a cool, dark place: Keep the tree in a cool, dark place, such as a garage or basement, where temperatures stay between 35-50°F (2-10°C).
  • Check regularly: Inspect the tree for any signs of mold or disease and ensure the roots remain moist throughout storage.

Preparing to Plant: Timing and Site Selection

Proper timing and location selection are crucial factors in successfully planting a bare root tree. Here are some guidelines to help you get ready:

  • Timing: The ideal time to plant bare root trees is during their dormant season, typically late winter or early spring, when the ground is no longer frozen but before buds break. Avoid planting in summer or autumn, as the trees may struggle to establish themselves in hot or cold weather.
  • Location selection: Opt for a site with well-draining soil, as fruit trees don’t tolerate waterlogged conditions. If you have clay soil, consider amending it with organic matter to enhance drainage. Planting bare root trees in clay soil may demand extra care.
  • Sunlight: Ensure the site receives a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily, as fruit trees require ample sunlight for photosynthesis and fruit production.
  • Space: Allow sufficient space between trees for their mature size, taking into account their root spread and canopy. Adequate spacing will promote good air circulation and reduce disease risk.

By carefully choosing and preparing your bare root fruit tree, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a plentiful harvest in the years ahead.

How to Plant a Bare Root Tree: Step by Step

Now that you’ve chosen the perfect tree and prepared your planting site, it’s time to learn how to plant a bare root tree. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

  • Soak the roots: Prior to planting, immerse the tree’s roots in water for several hours or overnight to hydrate them.
  • Dig a hole: Create a hole wide and deep enough to accommodate the tree’s root system without bending or crowding the roots. Make sure the hole’s depth is such that the graft union will sit about 2 inches above the soil line.
  • Form a mound: Shape a small mound of soil in the center of the hole. This will support the tree’s roots and help them spread out evenly.
  • Position the tree: Gently place the tree in the hole, with the roots spread over the mound. Ensure the graft union is a couple of inches above the finished ground level and that it is facing north to protect it from the sun’s most intense rays.
  • Fill the hole: Backfill the hole up to where the original soil line was on the tree, pressing it gently around the roots to eliminate air pockets. If planting bare root fruit trees in pots, use well-draining potting mix.
  • Water thoroughly: Provide the tree with a generous watering to settle the soil and supply necessary moisture for root establishment.
  • Prune: Trim the tree’s branches back by approximately one-third to compensate for root loss and encourage new growth.

Boosting Soil Health: Compost and Mycorrhizal Fungi

Healthy soil is essential for strong fruit tree growth and productivity. Composting fruit trees and incorporating mycorrhizal fungi can significantly enhance soil health and benefit your trees in various ways:

  • Compost: The finest compost for fruit trees is abundant in organic matter, which improves soil structure, water retention, and nutrient availability. Apply a layer of compost around the tree’s drip line each spring to provide a slow-release source of nutrients and promote healthy root growth.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi: These helpful fungi form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, increasing nutrient and water uptake. When planting your bare root tree, sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi powder directly onto the roots or mix it into the planting hole to encourage a robust, healthy root system.

Sheet Mulching: Advantages, Methods, and Application

Sheet mulching is a permaculture technique that offers numerous benefits for your fruit trees, particularly when used alongside compost. So, what is sheet mulching? It’s a process of layering organic materials on the ground to suppress weeds, enhance soil health, and conserve moisture. Here’s how to apply sheet mulching around your bare root fruit trees:

  • Collect materials: Gather a variety of organic materials, such as cardboard, newspaper, leaves, straw, grass clippings, and wood chips.
  • Prepare the ground: Remove any weeds or grass from the area around your tree, leaving a circle at least 3-4 feet in diameter.
  • Apply compost: Spread a layer of compost 2-4 inches thick around the tree, extending to the drip line. This provides a nutrient-rich base for your sheet mulch layers.
  • Lay down the first layer: Place sheets of cardboard or newspaper on top of the compost, overlapping the edges to prevent weeds from growing through. Make sure to leave a few inches of space around the tree trunk to avoid rot.
  • Add more layers: Continue layering organic materials, such as leaves, straw, or grass clippings, to a total depth of 6-8 inches. Finish with a layer of wood chips for added weed suppression and a polished appearance.
  • Water thoroughly: Saturate the sheet mulch layers well to stimulate decomposition and help them settle into place.

Watering Your Bare Root Trees

Proper watering is crucial for the health and success of your bare root tree. Here are some guidelines on how frequently to water bare root trees:

• Initial watering: Hydrate your tree thoroughly right after planting to settle the soil and establish good root-to-soil contact.

• First few weeks: Water your tree every 3-4 days for the first few weeks, depending on soil type, weather conditions, and tree size.

• First year: After the initial few weeks, water your tree once a week or as needed, ensuring the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged. Aim for the tree to receive about 1” of water per week, either from rain or irrigation.

• Established trees: Once your tree is established (typically after the first year), water it less frequently, around once every 2-4 weeks, depending on weather and soil conditions.


Planting bare root fruit trees can be a deeply fulfilling endeavor, offering you a bountiful harvest and a lasting connection to the land. By choosing the right trees, preparing your planting site, and following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, you’ll be well on your way to savoring the fruits of your labor for many years to come. So, roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and experience the joy of nurturing your very own fruit tree – from bare root beginnings to a thriving, fruit-laden canopy.

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