How to Plant Bareroot Trees & Shrubs

Amelanchier lamarckii from Thompson & Morgan

Amelanchier lamarckii can be supplied as a bare root tree
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Bareroot trees and shrubs are available to buy and plant between November and March, during their dormant period. Excellent value for money, they establish quickly and create less waste because they’re shipped without plastic containers. Give your bareroot shrubs and trees the best chance of success with these expert planting and growing tips...

How quickly should you plant bare root shrubs and trees?

Acer palmatum 'Garnet' (Bare Root) from Thompson & Morgan

Bare root Acers arrive in a dormant state
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Ideally, plant your bareroot shrubs and trees as soon as possible after they arrive. If you can’t plant them immediately, remove them from the packaging, soak the roots in a bucket of tepid water for 30 minutes and store them in a cool, frost-free place like a shed or garage. 

If it’s going to be a few days until you can plant them, dig a temporary trench in the garden and ‘heel’ them in by covering the roots with loose soil. Covering the roots protects them from drying out in the wind and allows you to keep them moist by regular watering. 

Don’t try to plant your bareroots if the weather is bad. Avoid ice and snow, waterlogged ground or very windy days. Just ‘heel’ them in somewhere sheltered, or pot them up temporarily, until the conditions improve. 

How do you plant a bareroot tree or shrub?

Hole in ground next to bare root tree

Make sure you get the right depth when digging a hole for bare root trees
Image: mirti/Shutterstock

Prepare the planting hole by digging a large square or rectangle that’s wide enough to accommodate the roots when they're fully spread out. Your hole is likely to be much wider than it is deep. 

Soak the roots of your shrubs or trees in tepid water for about half an hour (not too long or they’ll drown) before planting. Put them in the hole so that they’re planted to the original ‘tide mark’ on the stem left from the soil at the nursery. If your plant sits too deep, the crown can rot. 

If the original soil level mark isn’t obvious, make sure that the top of the root system sits just below ground level. Provided the roots are entirely covered, it’s better to plant slightly too shallow than slightly too deep. Finally, firm the soil around the roots and water well. The most common reasons that new bareroot shrubs and trees fail are being planted too deeply and not being watered enough while they establish themselves. 

Video guide to planting bareroot shrubs and trees

Find out how to plant bareroot trees and shrubs in your garden with our handy how to video guide.

Top tips for planting bareroot trees and shrubs 

  • If your bare root trees and shrubs can't be planted immediately, remove them from the packaging and store them in a cool, frost-free place.
  • Before planting, soak the roots in tepid water for about 30 minutes to rehydrate them.
  • Prepare a planting hole that’s wide enough to accommodate the roots when they're fully spread out.
  • Find the original soil ‘tide mark’ on the stem and plant to this depth. 
  • If it’s not obvious, plant so that the top of the root system sits just below ground level.
  • Firm the soil around the roots and water well.

We hope this has given you all the information you need to successfully plant your bareroot trees and shrubs. For more advice, take a look at our trees & hedges hub page where you’ll find growing guides, top tips and inspiration. Or if you're looking or shrub specific growing advice, head to our shrub hub.

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.

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