ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BARE-ROOT PLANTING
They are cheaper and greener than pot-grown plants!
IT’s no exaggeration to say that the invention of plastic pots in the 1960s transformed gardening, as it meant that plants could be supplied all year round. Until then, the only opportunity gardeners had to fill their plots with plants was between late autumn and early spring, when dormant species were lifted from the ground and sold as ‘bare roots’.
Dubbed ‘nature’s planting time’ by some, this is the period when the soil is damp and easy to dig, and plants aren’t actively growing, helping roots to establish readily underground. Pre-1960, it was also a time of feverish activity, as gardeners snapped up bare-root plants to make the most of their narrow window of opportunity.
Today, pot-grown plants are ubiquitous, but bare roots have never gone away. In fact, the number of trees, shrubs, roses and perennials available for bare-root planting seems to increase annually. A decent garden centre or nursery will stock some, but head online and you’ll find a bewildering range.
At a time when concerns over plastic waste have never been higher, bare-root plants are undeniably more environmentally friendly. It’s estimated that gardeners use half a billion unrecyclable containers each year; buying bare roots will reduce this figure – although plants are often wrapped in polythene to prevent them drying out.
The benefits don’t end there, though. Bare-root plants tend to settle in more readily because they are dormant and grow more quickly than their containerised equivalents. Another factor is cost: they’re cheaper, making planting a bed or border – or establishing a hedge – far more economical.
The first step to success with bare-root plants is to choose healthy specimens. Avoid any showing signs of pests and diseases, ones with too many broken branches or those with roots that were damaged when they were dug up. Also reject anything with bone-dry roots as these are unlikely to establish.
Set plants in shallow holes that are wide enough to accommodate the root system – prick the sides and bottom to enable roots to penetrate. Don’t spread organic matter in the base as plants will sink when it rots. However, a light dusting of mycorrhizal fungi in the bottom of holes will help plants establish. Then sit back and watch them grow.
For beautiful mixed borders – without the need for plastic pots – switch to bare-root planting. Suitable plants include roses, shrubs and perennials like astrantias and geraniums