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If you’re a frugal homesteader like me, then the cheapest and best way to start your homestead orchard is with bare root fruit trees.
Bare root fruit trees are cheaper than container-grown trees, easier to plant and the first-year survival rate is much higher.
In this article, we explain what bare root trees are, how to plant them, and how to care for them after planting.
What are Bare Root Trees?
Bare root trees are young trees that are taken out of the ground during their winter dormancy so that their roots are exposed. This makes packaging and shipping easier and cheaper when it comes to selling fruit trees like apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, and various nuts and berries.
When Should I Plant Bare Root Fruit Trees?
Bare-root fruit trees are ready to be planted immediately into the garden or into a permanent container while they are still dormant, and that means late winter or very early spring (January thru mid-March) here in the northeast.
Good nurseries will only have bare-root stock available during this time, so it’s easy to tell when this is the right time to plant!
Where to Plant my Tree
Placing a fruit tree in the proper location is essential to ensuring that it will produce. Fruit trees need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. If they don’t get enough light, they may not develop buds or set fruit. Also, if they don’t have enough light, the fruit won’t be big, colorful, or flavorful.
What are the Advantages of Bare Root Trees?
Bare root fruit trees are not impressive in appearance when they are first unpacked, but for many gardeners, myself included, their advantages outweigh the size and unattractiveness with which they arrive on a purchaser’s doorstep.
- Fast Adaptors –Bare-root plants can more quickly adapt to new soils and get a vigorous head start on growing once planted. They get placed straight in contact with native soil upon planting so the plant can start building a strong root system right away before it has to deal with producing leaves and flowers.
- Affordable –You’ll save 30-50% by going with a bare-root tree instead of a container-grown tree of the same size. That’s because you’re avoiding the labor involved in potting and maintaining a containerized tree. Because bare-root trees don’t have soil, they weigh less, which reduces shipping costs.
Note: Because bare root fruit trees arrive looking like dead twigs, it’s important to consider the reputation and guarantees of the nursery before purchase.
How Do I Plant Bare Root?
Planting bare root trees is just as easy as planting any other kind of tree, but there are a few things to consider.
A few things to remember:
- Keep the roots of your plants moist until you are ready to plant.
- If you are planting the next day, remove the plant from its shipping packaging and soak it in a bucket of water overnight.
Below are the 4 easy steps to planting your bare root trees.
- When planting your tree, dig a hole that is as deep as the roots and at least twice as wide. To improve the removed soil, add 20% of composted organic matter before using it to fill in the hole.
- Carefully form a cone of loose soil in the center of your planting hole and spread the roots over it. Make sure the crown (where the roots meet the trunk) is at or slightly below the soil surface. Place the tree at the same depth it was before. You can determine this by the darker area of the trunk. Any grafting on the trunk should be kept at least 1 inch above the soil surface.
- Fill the planting hole and cover the roots with the amended soil. Tamp down gently to keep the plant firmly in place.
- Soak the area slowly and thoroughly with water. Once your plant is in, you can build up a ring of soil at the edge of the planting hole to form a saucer, which will help hold water in the root zone. Mulch with 2-4 inches of compost to aid in keeping the soil moist and weed-free. Keep the mulch at least several inches away from the crown to prevent rot.
Watering Schedule for Bare Root Trees
Young fruit trees need at least a gallon of water each week once their leaves begin to sprout in the Spring. Good watering habits are important for your tree’s first two growing seasons.
Pruning Bare Root Trees
When you plant a new fruit tree, it is vital that you prune it right away. If you don’t, the tree may not grow properly. The first pruning should take place soon after planting. You’ll want to prune the trunk and branches to keep its canopy in proportion with its root system. Pruning a newly planted bare root tree is simple, requiring only that you consider the health of the roots and the lateral branches.
Here’s a video that does a great job of walking you through the process.
Where to Buy Bare Root Fruit Trees Online
I usually buy from my local nursery, but I have had really good luck from One Green World online. They are reputable and offer some unusual stock not found elsewhere. I’ve got my name on their list for Sea Berries when they’re restocked!
I already have apple trees, grapes, blueberries and raspberries., and am looking forward to adding peaches and pears within the next few weeks. I’m so excited to expand my garden and further add to my family’s self-sufficiency with more of our own food production.
Check out these articles if you are interested in starting your own permaculture garden.
- The 6 Basics of Permaculture Design: Sustainable Gardening
- Permaculture Gardening: for Amazing Results
Bare root fruit trees are the least expensive way to start a fruit orchard. Save money on trees by researching which bare root fruit trees are recommended for your area. Track down where and when they are available and buy locally. You’ll want to pick up your trees as soon as they become available in late winter and early spring.