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Plant a Bare Root Fruit Tree

Size of the Planting Hole

Things change. Advice for planting bare root trees has changed too! Colorado State University studied root growth in fruit trees. They have a planting technique that expands root growth exponentially (see bottom of the document for bare root trees).


Tricia plants a bare root tree the new way in our video "How to Plant a Bare Root Tree". No more deep holes here, the new method calls for a shallow, saucer-shaped hole that is three times as wide as the tree roots and deep enough to allow planting at the same depth the tree was in the field (Note the change in color on the trunk).

These standards have been adopted industry wide, including endorsement by the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA), American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA), American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), and Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

Just Planted Bare Root Tree

Positioning the Tree in the Hole

The position will depend whether or not it is a single or multi-graft tree. If you are putting in a multi-graft tree, position the smallest graft or scion, to the south facing position. This will assure that the largest scion does not take over the tree. For a single graft tree be sure and point the graft towards the north or the northeast to prevent sun damage.

Our complete directions on how to plant a bare root tree are in our downloadable PDF Growing Guide, Fruit & Nut Trees.

Mulching Newly Planted Trees

Colorado State warns against mulching around the base of the new tree: With newly planted trees, do NOT place mulch directly over the root ball. Rather, mulch the backfill area and beyond. Never place mulch up against the trunk as this may lead to bark decay. Over the backfill area and beyond, 3-4 inches of wood chip mulch gives better weed control and prevents additional soil compaction from foot traffic.

There's an epidemic of over-mulching trees. Some call it "volcano mulching". Make sure it doesn't happen on your property!

Bare Root Tree Season is December – February

So what if you can't plant your trees as soon as you receive them? That's ok, you can heel them in and plant them when the time is right.

To heel in your trees, choose a shady location and dig a trench about a foot deep. If your ground is frozen you can heel in either in the cellar or in the garage. Place the trees in the trench bundled as closely together as possible leaning against the slope. Cover the roots with loose soil compost or wood shavings, but avoid using rice hulls, cedar or redwood shavings, and it's important not to let your trees roots dry out or freeze.

You want to keep the roots moist but not soaking wet. The point of heeling in is to keep the roots moist, protect the tree from freezing and keep it cool enough that it doesn't break dormancy.

If your ground is frozen or if you're under snow you can create this same environment in a wheelbarrow or some other type of container and store it in your basement, garage or cellar. If you see the buds swell and then the tree starts to flower, it has broken dormancy and it needs to be planted immediately.

Whether you want to try the new-fangled planting method from Colorado State, or go with the traditional way, be sure to take advantage of one of the great bargains in food production -- bare root trees.

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