How to plant a bare rooted tree?

26, 2014

Planting a bare rooted treeWondering what is the best technique to plant a bare rooted tree? Come and learn how!

We sell bare rooted trees, which are not the same as the potted trees most people are used to. Planting a potted tree and a bare rooted tree is not the same thing.



How to Plant a Tree

Many people have planted a tree in their life. Sometimes it was successful, sometimes not. Many believe it is their lack of a green thumb that is the problem. However, planting a tree successfully does not require any magic or luck, and you can easily learn here how to plant a tree correctly.

1. Planning

Planting an orchard or a forest first needs a good plan. Planting only one tree is simpler, but it still requires that you verify some elements. The first element to determine is the amount of sun or shade needed. Check on the description of the tree you want to plant to see if it needs sun or shade and make sure that you plant it accordingly. It is useless, for example, to plant an apple tree that needs full sun in a shady spot. The apple tree will become sick and will not produce any fruit. If you only have shade, you should consider planting another species, for example the serviceberry that tolerates shade.

The second element to verify is the soil drainage. Is your soil well drained or is it swampy? If you don’t know, dig a hole and fill it with water. See how long it takes for the water to pass through the soil. If it stays for a while and if your soil looks like mud for days after a rain, it is not well drained. You will need to choose a species that likes damp soil or you will have to install a drain. Many species will tolerate excess water for 2 weeks in spring after the snow thaws.

The third element to verify is the pH of your soil to be sure it is not located in the extremes. For example, if there are only pines on your land, you have an indicator that your soil is acidic and that you must plant trees that like acidic soil, unless you want to correct your soil pH with lime. You can also get a general overview of your soil pH by identifying which weeds grow naturally on it. To be more precise you could use a pHmeter to measure it, but the simplest method would be to bring a soil sample to your agricultural CO-OP where they can cheaply test your soil pH.

2. Collecting and storing your trees

Pick up your trees as soon as possible when they are delivered. They should ideally be planted within two days after they arrive, although they can be stored for longer if needed. They should be kept in a cool place, at a temperature between 1-4 degrees Celcius.

3. Unwrapping the trees

It is good to remove the foam wrapping from your trees as soon as you receive them by carefully slitting open the foam packaging with a short, sharp knife (be careful not to cut the trees!) Do not open the plastic covering the roots until you are planting. The trees are packed with damp sawdust and don't need to be watered until you plant them.

Please note the steps for planting in clay soil are different. See the instructions below for planting in clay soil

4. Preparing your spot for planting - dig holes and install stakes

If you have chosen a fall delivery and there is hard frost forecast, mulch the ground heavily with dead leaves to protect it from freezing.

Dig all your holes for your trees before planting them. They should be at least 30 cm wide and 30 cm deep, the bigger the better, because it will make it easier for the roots to grow, especially if your soil is compact.

When you start digging, lay two sheets of plastic nearby where you want your hole to be, and make separate piles of soil on each piece of plastic, one for the soil from the top and for the soil from the bottom of the hole. This will make refilling the hole much easier.

Warning: planting in clay soil

Never add good soil to a hole made in clay soil. The good soil will act as a sponge to absorb water, and the clay walls will create a pool to collect water, so that your trees will drown!

Do not dig a hole. Instead, remove the weeds and grass, and loosen the soil in an area of one metre square and one foot deep, to help the roots to grow easily.

Staking: You can also plant all your stakes in advance. Although the trees are able to stand straight alone, we recommend staking for three main reasons: 

1. To help mark smaller trees; 

2. To guard against breakage by snow or ice during winter, and

3. To help protect the trees against accidental breakage by lawnmowers, humans and animals during summer. For more details on staking, check out our tutorial "Making your tree winter ready".


5. Protect your roots from drying during planting

To open the plastic wrap, cut off the straps and rope that are tying the plastic around the roots.

When you take out the tree you are ready to plant, BE SURE to close the plastic quickly and tightly around the rest of the roots after each tree that you take. Wind or sun can dry out the roots of the trees within 2 minutes if they are left exposed. The best way to ensure the health of your trees while planting is to plant on a rainy day, but this is not always possible. If necessary you can also spray the roots with water to keep them damp.

6. To plant your tree

Place the tree in the hole and spread its roots. DO NOT put the sawdust from the package into the hole. It is for packaging purposes only. Put back the soil from the bottom of the hole in the bottom, and the top soil in the top. It is important to make sure that all the roots are completely covered.

If your soil is very poor or extremely sandy, you can add good soil into the hole.

However, you should never add compost or manure into your hole – it can burn the roots of the tree!

In clay soil

Plant your stake and spread the roots of the tree over the area where you loosened the soil.

Bring a wheelbarrow full of good soil from elsewhere and cover the roots of your tree with a mound of soil at least 30 cm high, making sure the roots are completely covered.

7. Water and compost

Compact the soil well with your feet to eliminate air pockets and water the ground around the tree heavily with at least 20 litres of water (the roots should be soaking wet). If planting in spring, you should keep watering twice a week for the first two months.

It is good to spread compost or well-aged manure around the surface, but make sure that it does not touch the bark of the tree.

8. Mulching

Mulching the trees is a very good idea: it will minimize the weeding you will have to do while keeping the soil damp and the temperature stable underneath, and also bringing more nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Dead leaves or wood chips work well, or even better a mixture of both. You should make a donut-shaped layer at least 8 inches thick, but hollow in the centre so that it doesn't touch the trunk; otherwise it can make the trunk rot. 

9. Rodent protection

To protect your trees against rodents, simply place a spiral around the trunk in the fall and remove it in the spring. We provide a free plastic spiral for each grafted tree (plum, apple and pear varieties.) It needs to be installed around the trunk before the soil freezes. Bury it into the soil about 1 cm deep so that the voles cannot lift it. Don't forget to remove it in spring, otherwise the sun cannot reach the bark. You can reuse it every year until the tree becomes too big for it.

10. Pruning

In summer as the young tree grows, it is good to prune off all the low branches, leaving just the main trunk. This will help the tree to put its energy into growing tall, rather than developing branches that would later need to be removed.

Good luck and happy planting!



Want to know how to tell if you have clay soil? Take a small sample of soil and mix it with a little water until it becomes smooth and pliable, like the texture of play dough. Then try manipulating it between your fingers and thumb to make a tower that stands up from your hand. If it makes a tower of 2-3 inches that stands up without falling off, it means you have clay soil.