Understanding bare-root trees
Bare-root trees are just what the name suggests. These trees are not grown and sold in pots, but are instead cultivated directly in the soil. This enables them to grow a well-developed root system, and has several other advantages too. Here we will tell you some of the main reasons we prefer to produce bare-root trees over potted trees. We will also explain some of the main things you need to understand when buying and planting bare-root trees.
What you need to know about bare-root trees
A bare-root tree that you receive by mail looks like this. Yes, we know it might not look like much! As you can see, it is a whip with no branches. This is as a result of pruning during the summer, which is better for the growth of the tree, as well as allowing it to be shipped more easily.
Although it might appear small and unassuming, it can grow up to about 1.2m (4 feet) per year, and will become a 6m (20-foot) tree that gives fruit each year before you know it!
Advantage 1: Strong root systems
One of the main advantages of bare-root trees is that their root systems are not constrained inside the small space of a pot, and they develop the ability to seek out nutrients and water from deep in the soil.
It’s important to understand what a big difference this makes to the health of the tree. You might think that a potted tree, once planted in the soil, will eventually end up with the same kind of root system as that of a bare-root tree, so that in the long run there is no great difference. This is not true, however. The root system of a potted tree takes the shape of the inside of the pot. When the pot is removed, the roots do not untwist themselves and extend naturally in the soil, but will remain always in that shape. They can sometimes even end up choking the tree!
This greatly limits the capacity of the tree to absorb nutrients and water from the soil, and makes it far less stable and resilient. This is also why it is important to dig a big enough hole to be able to properly spread out the roots when planting any tree; if they are forced into a twisted or confined shape when they are planted, they will remain in that shape all their lives.
Advantage 2: Grown naturally
Bare-root trees might be smaller than the large potted specimens you find in garden centres, but they are vigorous and strong. Our trees have grown at their natural rate in a zone 4 climate, with the help of compost, mulch and other natural methods to help them grow their best.
Advantage 3: Compact and lightweight
Without the bulk of a large pot full of soil for each tree, bare-root trees can be transported and shipped easily, in compact, lightweight packages. A package of 50 trees would easily fit in your arms (see photo below), and you can pick it from the post office on a bicycle! This also means that it is possible for us to ship bare-root trees all over Canada at an affordable price, something that would definitely not be true of potted trees!
The right time for planting a bare-root tree
One of the most important things to understand about bare-root trees is that they can only be dug up out of the soil when they are dormant. That is to say, either in fall after they lose their leaves; or in spring before they open their buds. If a tree is transplanted during the summer, it will almost certainly not survive the shock of transplantation, unlike potted trees.
Why we ship our trees in spring
Generally speaking, bare-root trees can be planted either in fall, or in early spring. However, we ship our trees only in spring, from around mid-April to late May. The main reason for this is that it is healthier for the trees we produce.
For fall shipments to work, we would need to dig up the trees quite early in fall, so as to have time to prepare orders and ship them before the ground freezes at your place. The problem with this is that sometimes our trees do not have time to fully harden their buds before we take them out of the ground, and are therefore more susceptible to frost injury in their first year. For better understanding of bud hardening and hardiness, see this article.
This is why we have decided to ship our trees only in spring, as this way they can stay in the ground to finish hardening their buds properly. Since the period in which it is possible to plant trees is thus quite limited, it’s important to plan well and order in advance. We start to take orders each year in early January.
Shipping bare root trees
When buying bare root trees for the first time, many people are concerned about how the tree will survive if it is shipped without the roots being encased in a pot of soil. However, you do not need to worry about the roots of your trees drying out; we take extreme care with this. You can see how we pack our trees here. That said, you do need to be careful not to leave the roots exposed when you are planting the trees – see our planting video and instructions here for more details.
Planting a bare-root tree in a pot?
We do NOT recommend planting our trees in pots. As we explain above, trees grown in pots cannot develop a healthy root system, and even if they are only kept in a pot for a year or two, their long term health is likely to be compromised. Moreover, the soil in pots dries out very quickly, and if you happen to forget to water the potted tree often enough, it can easily die of dehydration.
If you need to plant the tree somewhere temporarily, it would be better to simply plant it in a spot that you can easily access, and transplant it in either fall or spring, when it is dormant. If you absolutely must plant your tree temporarily in a pot for some reason, choose as big a pot as possible, and water very regularly. Ideally, it is recommended to bury the pot in the soil, to prevent it from overheating when it is sunny, drying out in summer, or freezing in winter.
Now you know why we favour bare-root trees over potted ones: it produces a much healthier tree that can be transported and replanted easily. It’s important to understand that bare-root trees can only be dug up and planted during their dormant season, in spring or fall. This means you have to do a little more advanced planning when planting bare-root trees.