They are cheaper and greener than pot-grown plants!

Amateur Gardening - - This Week In Gardening - Martyn Cox

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

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