How to plant a bare-root tree
If you wish to ensure the survival of your trees, the first step is to plant them correctly! Here we will present the method that we advise for properly planting bare-root trees. It is good to note that you can also get a head-start (particularly if you have a lot of trees to plant) by preparing your planting holes before you receive your trees.
Pick up your trees as soon as possible when they are delivered. If it is not possible to plant them immediately, check the appearance of the buds. If the buds are still tightly closed and not swollen, it is possible to store the trees for a short period in a cool place, between 1-4°C. If the buds are swollen or open, the trees must be planted as quickly as possible.
In all cases, the trees should ideally be planted within two days after their arrival.
1. Dig your holes
Dig all the holes first. 30cm is generally enough, but bigger is better. The wider and deeper you dig, the easier it will be for the roots to grow, especially in a compact soil.
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: If you notice something unusual while digging your hole such as: soil that is composed of pure sand or gravel, a hole that fills with water from the bottom, or a soil that has a foul or stale smell – this means that it is not a good place to plant your tree. You will need to choose another spot directly if it is too wet, or correct the soil in depth if it is gravel or sand.
2. Protect your roots from drying during planting
With a short, sharp knife, open the outside foam if not already done. (It is better to do this part as soon as you receive the trees). Be careful not to cut the trees underneath! Then, cut off the straps and rope that are tightening the plastic around the roots.
Take the tree that you are ready to plant, but be extremely careful to close the plastic promptly and tightly after each tree that you remove. This could be the most crucial factor that determines the future health of your tree. Wind and/or sun are able to dry out the exposed roots within less than 2 minutes. While not always possible, planting on a rainy day is ideal.
3(a). If planting in sand or loam
Spread the roots in the hole and put back the soil from the bottom in the bottom, and the top soil on the top. Make sure that all the roots are buried.
DO NOT add compost or manure into the hole as it could burn the roots of your tree.
However, if your soil is very poor or almost pure sand, you can add good soil into the hole.
3(b). If planting in clay soil
WARNING: Never add good soil into the hole when planting in clay. The good soil will absorb water like a sponge, which will form a pool of water when surrounded by the clay walls. This could drown the tree.
Do not dig a hole: instead, remove the weeds or grass, and loosen the soil in an area 1m wide, leaving the soil in place. Get a wheelbarrow load of good soil from elsewhere. Place the tree on top of the loosened area and spread its roots. Make a mound (about 30cm high) with the new soil on top of the roots. All the roots must be completely covered. Planting this way will prevent the tree from being drowned by the rain.
4. Water, compact and add compost
Compact the soil with your feet to eliminate air pockets.
Water heavily (average 20 litres per tree). After planting, the roots of the tree should be soaking wet. If planting in spring, you will have to keep watering around twice a week for the first 2 months, in the absence of heavy rain.
Spread compost or aged manure on the surface of the soil, without letting it touch the bark of the tree.
5. Add mulch
To minimize weeding needs throughout the summer, we suggest covering the soil with a thick layer of mulch. It will also help keep the soil damp by preventing evaporation. Use any organic material you have available for mulching. It could be dead leaves, compost, woodchips, etc.
Ideally, the mulch should be spread widely around the tree, in a layer approximately 20cm thick, with a hollow in the center (in a donut shape). Make sure that the mulch is not in contact with the trunk, or it will make the bark rot.
If you follow these steps, this will be a very good start towards healthy, thriving fruit trees and a good harvest of fruit within a few years! However, your tree will also need to be cared-for properly as it continues to grow. Don’t forget to check out our tutorial on making your tree winter-ready.
Check the video below for a planting demonstration!