Published on 01/08/15

Store bare roots in cold storage or temporary, outdoor spot

By Frank M. Watson

Landscape planting season is upon us and home gardeners may be eager to buy new fruit trees and ornamentals. New plant material is often produced bare root — without soil — and must be either kept in cold storage or temporarily planted outdoors to survive.

If bare root plants cannot be planted immediately, then certain precautions must be taken to ensure their survival. Home landscapers must make sure bare root plants don’t dry out or freeze before they are planted in their permanent spot.

Don’t store bare root plants in a bucket of water. This cuts off all essential oxygen to the roots.

If refrigerated storage is available, store the bare root plants there. First, make sure the roots are in good, moist condition before storage. Next, return the roots to the moistened packing material the plant was shipped in and place the plant into refrigerated storage.

Don’t store plants with fruits and vegetables, as produce can give off gases that can harm new plants. Maintain the storage temperature between 38 and 45 degrees.

If you can’t plant immediately and cold storage isn’t available, the best alternative is to plant in a pot or temporarily plant by covering the root with moist soil or mulch. This temporary planting is called ‘heeling in.’

Select a shady, well-drained site in the landscape. Avoid northern and northwestern exposures as most cold fronts come from these directions.

Dig a shallow trench wide enough to accommodate the plant's root systems. For multiple plants, separate them, spread them out and cover them with moist soil. Keep varieties labeled and separate.

Water roots thoroughly and be sure all roots in contact with moist soil. This completes the heeling process.

When you are ready to move the new plant to its permanent home in your landscape, be careful not to damage the roots.

Frank Watson is the University of Georgia Extension agent in Wilkes County, Ga.

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