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Bare Root Apple Trees 101: What You Need to Know Before You Plant

Bare root apple trees are distinct from other apple trees you might find in nurseries. Instead of being potted, their roots are completely bare.

Bare root trees have several advantages that make them great for home growers, but there are some important considerations, too.

If you’re wondering how to plant a bare root apple tree or if it’s right for you, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn everything you need to know.

Leaf buds opening on a newly planted apple tree sapling.

What Are Bare Root Apple Trees?

Bare root apple trees are just what they sound like; they’re apple trees that are purchased without a pot or soil. As a result, their roots are bare.

Nurseries that grow bare root apple trees dig them up in the fall or winter when they’re dormant, without any leaves or fruit. The trees are stored and packaged so that their roots remain moist, and then they’re purchased by home growers like you!

A bundled group of bare root trees waiting to be planted.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Bare Root Apple Trees


Bare root apple trees have several advantages that make them a great choice for home gardeners.

They’re Cheaper

Bare root trees are cheaper for nurseries, and therefore, they’re usually cheaper for customers, too. This is because without being in a pot, they don’t require the extra maintenance and labor that other young trees do.

Plus, without all the extra bulk of the pot and soil, they’re lighter and cheaper to ship, too.

Bare root fruit trees for sale at an outdoor market.
Bare root fruit trees for sale at an outdoor market.

They’re Easier to Plant

Without all the extra soil, bare root apple trees are much easier to deal with. They’re lighter in weight, which makes transporting them less cumbersome. Plus, they’re basically ready to go straight into the ground, because you don’t have to worry about the soil as much.

Additionally, while most trees are quite sensitive to things like heat and dehydration when they’re planted, bare root trees are less susceptible to this type of damage damage. They’re planted earlier in the season, so they have more time to settle into your garden before the heat arrives.

They Grow Faster

A young apple tree with new leaf growth.

Many apple trees take five to ten years to start producing fruit. So if you’re eager for your tree to grow, you’ll be pleased to know that bare root apple trees often grow faster than other young trees. This is due to the fact that they have more roots than other apple trees, which enables them to grow more rapidly when they’re first planted.

For more details, check out our post on How Long It Takes to Grow an Apple Tree.


Of course, there must be some downsides to planting bare root apple trees, or everyone would do it! Here are a few things to consider before deciding on a bare root tree.

You Have to Move Quickly

Because bare root trees don’t have soil or pots to help them retain water and nutrients, you have to plant them quickly. No more than a week should pass between the time the tree leaves the nursery to when you plant it.

Similarly, the trees must be planted in early spring or late fall, when it’s cool out and the soil is more moist. Otherwise, the heat and dry ground will damage your plant.

Lastly, bare root trees must be planted when they’re dormant, without any buds or fruits, making their planting window even smaller.

They’re Young

Bare root apple trees are often younger than other apple trees you may purchase. So even though they grow more quickly, they may take longer to actually start producing fruit than if you purchased an older tree.

How to Plant a Bare Root Apple Tree

If you’ve decided a bare root apple tree is right for you, you’ll need to know how to plant one. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions.

If you’re looking for more information about planting apple trees, check out our How to Plant Apple Trees guide.

Placing a bare root apple tree in a hole.

1. Determine When to Plant

As mentioned above, bare root apple trees need to be planted in a very specific window of time. Plan to plant them in the late fall or early spring, when the weather is cooler and when the tree is dormant. This will ensure your tree has plenty of time to establish itself before potentially damaging heat arrives.

And remember that you should plant your tree within a week of it leaving the nursery, ideally as quickly as possible. So plan to spend some time gardening as soon as it arrives!

2. Unpack Your Tree

Once you have your bare root apple tree, unpack it and begin getting it ready to plant.

Most likely, your tree comes with packaging, either for shipping or simply for keeping the roots protected and moist. So the first thing you’ll need to do is remove the packaging.

Once the tree has been removed from its packaging, you’ll need to separate the roots to allow them to spread out and grow when the time comes.

3. Soak Your Roots

After your tree is unpacked and its roots have been separated, soak the roots in water to ensure they are nice and hydrated. In general, you should soak them for at least two hours but no more than 24 hours.

4. Dig a Hole for Your Tree

Next, dig a hole where you’ll plant your bare root apple tree. The hole should be as deep as the roots, with the bottom of the trunk sitting at the gound level. Additionally, you should make sure it’s wide enough that the roots can spread out comfortably, without bending or breaking.

5. Plant Your Tree

Arranging the roots of a bare root apple tree.

Place your tree in the hole. As mentioned above, the bottom of the trunk should be flush with the ground.

While holding the apple tree upright, place the soil back in the hole around the tree’s roots. Pack the soil firmly until the entire hole is filled and the dirt is level with the ground around the hole you dug.

Consider adding a stake to ensure your tree grows straight.

6. Add Water and Mulch

Once your tree is planted, generously add water.

Then, add two to four inches of mulch to help the soil retain its moisture. Make sure to leave several inches around the tree’s trunk so that in case the mulch rots, it does not harm the tree.

7. Care for Your Tree

Pruning a young apple tree in the winter.

Now that your tree is planted, all that’s left is to care for it!

Younger trees need more water than more mature trees, so keep your apple tree well-hydrated.

You can prune your tree as needed, but be careful not to overdo it while your tree is young.

Fertilizer shouldn’t be used when you first plant your tree, but it may be useful as your tree matures.

For more details and tips, visit our Complete Apple Tree Care Guide!

Where to Buy Bare Root Apple Trees

Gardener filling in hole for newly planted fruit tree sapling.

Most bare root apple trees come from specialty nurseries, but you can get anything online these days!

We recommend the high-quality bare root apple trees sold by one of our favorite retailers, Stark Bros. They have a wide selection of bare root trees available in two different sizes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of apple trees can be bare root?

Nearly any apple tree variety can be purchased and shipped as a bare root tree! So if you’re considering which type to get, pick the type of apple that’s best suited to your taste, climate, and other growing conditions.

How long does it take a bare root apple tree to produce fruit?

Closeup of tiny newly formed apple fruit.
Newly formed apple fruit.

Different apple trees produce fruit at different times, but on average, they take around four to five years. Nurseries typically sell bare root trees that are anywhere from one to three years old, which means your apple tree will start to produce fruit just a few years after you transplant it!

When should you plant bare root apple trees?

Bare root apple trees need to be planted when they’re dormant, so they don’t have any leaves, fruit, or buds. Dormancy typically happens between late fall and early spring, which is exactly when you should plant your bare root apple tree.

Additionally, planting your bare root apple tree during this time means planting it early in the season. This gives it a head start in getting settled in its new environment, so that by the time the summer heat arrives, there is minimal risk of shock or dehydration.

Wrapping Up Bare Root Apple Trees

Closeup of pale pink apple tree blossoms.

Now that you know all about bare root apple trees, you’re ready to start growing your own! If you’ve decided this type of tree is right for you, you’re sure to enjoy its benefits and delicious fruit for years to come.

Interested in learning more about apple trees? Visit our apple trees page for different varieties, growing tips, recipes, and more!