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How to Plant and Care for Bare Root Fruit Trees

Every year, bare root fruit trees become more popular among growers everywhere. Knowing how to grow and care for bare root fruit trees can help you save money and hassle in the long run!

Read on to learn how to grow bare root fruit trees from young saplings into healthy, happy, full-grown trees.

bare root fruit trees

What Exactly Is a Bare Root Fruit Tree?

Before learning how to plant and care for bare root fruit trees, knowing what they are is important. Thankfully, while the name may seem a bit odd or confusing, the distinction is relatively easy to make.

Bare root fruit trees are simply fruit trees that are not sold in traditional containers or planting pots. Instead, bare root fruit trees are sold unpotted, usually with the roots in some protective packing material. They will sport soil-free bare roots, bare branches, and a sturdy trunk.

Typically, bare root fruit trees are grown in the field at an arboreal nursery. While dormant, they are then dug out–roots and all–before they begin to set their leaves. This takes place usually in early spring.

The bare root fruit trees are then delivered to stores and lawn and garden centers. They are stored in cold containers until needed or shipped to consumers directly.

The major draw of bare root fruit trees over those in containers is they tend to be less expensive and easier to handle. Removing the added weight and encumberment of the planting pot or container puts bare root fruit trees and raises their appeal with many fruit tree enthusiasts.

How Does Planting a Bare Root Fruit Tree Differ From Planting a Potted Fruit Tree?

Bare-root fruit trees planting. A close-up of grafted apple trees with an open root system ready for planting.

When it comes to planting a bare root fruit tree, much of the process will look familiar to those who have done some container planting. However, the absence of a soil base for these roots will necessitate a couple more steps and a bit more care and finesse.

Potted fruit trees are typically quite simple to transfer. You dig a hole, free the soil base of the fruit tree from the container, and place the root ball in the hole. On the other hand, there are a couple more steps to planting bare root fruit trees–both before planting and in the process of planting them.

Before planting your bare root fruit trees, be sure you have a good-sized, waterproof container on hand in addition to your typical gardening tools. This container will need to be large enough to accommodate your bare root fruit tree’s roots. This container will be a unique necessity for planting bare root fruit trees.

Caring for Bare Root Fruit Trees Before Planting

Once you have your bare root fruit trees on hand–whether you have purchased them from an online vendor like Stark Bros or are sourcing them from a local seller–they will need some immediate care.

You will need to ensure that the roots of your bare root fruit trees do not dry out. To keep the roots safe and healthy, you can either moisten the packaging material the trees came in or wrap the roots in a damp cloth.

Maintaining your unplanted bare root fruit trees can be tricky at times because bare root fruit trees should be planted in cooler weather, not in the warm months. If you have purchased your bare root fruit trees outside of the ideal planting season, don’t fret!

You can preserve these trees for a time by storing them in the refrigerator. If you lack room in your fridge or need to store them for longer, you can also temporarily plant them in a pot.

The key in storage as well as during the actual planting process is to minimize the air exposure of the roots of your bare root fruit trees. They should not be in contact with air for too long and should never be left to dry out.

How to Plant a Bare Root Fruit Tree

Planting bare root apple tree

Dig The Hole

Before you unwrap the roots of your bare root fruit trees, you want to make sure you dig the hole they will go into. Again, this will help cut down significantly on the time in which the roots are exposed to the air and begin to dry out.

First and foremost, the hole needs to be large enough to accommodate all of the bare root fruit tree’s present roots without bending or snapping any of them. Thus, hole size requirements will vary based on the size and root spread of your specific bare root fruit trees.

Form a Mound

Once you have dug an appropriate-sized hole, take the loose soil and use it to form a cone-shaped mound in the center of the hole.

This will be where your bare root fruit tree sits. With this in mind, you want to ensure the mound has some height and is the proper dimensions for the plant crown to rest on with the roots hanging down.

Soak and Trim the Roots

Once your hole is prepared, fill the waterproof container with water. Then, you can unwrap the roots of your bare root fruit tree and soak it in the water for one to two hours.

Afterward, gently trim off any dead roots. Typically, these will be dry and pale. Be sure not to cut off any living roots, usually brown, black, or green.

Plant the Bare Root Fruit Tree In The Hole

Finally, it’s time to place your bare root fruit tree in the hole! The plant crown should come up just above the soil line, so if need be, you can add more soil to the mound until you reach that desired height. Gently spread the roots so they travel around the mounded cone and down the sides.

While stabilizing the bare root fruit tree with one hand, gently backfill the hole with the other, careful not to manhandle the roots. Every inch or so you add in the soil, tamp it lightly down so that the roots and fruit tree remain stabilized.

How to Care For a Bare Root Fruit Tree

Good watering right after planting is the first key to caring for your bare root fruit trees. Beyond that step, they should be treated as any tree–watered well but not overwatered. Do not fertilize them or use any chemicals on them in the first year.

During that tender first year, you may want to stake your bare root fruit trees for added stability. Just be sure to stake them enough to stabilize them, but leave them loose enough to swap them gently by the breeze.

You can add mulch to help them remain moist but not soggy; they need to stay well watered, especially in that first year.

Once your bare root fruit trees are established, you should see them putting out leaves. The roots have taken hold at this point, and they require no different treatment from your standard potted fruit trees.

Frequently Asked Questions

Bare root fruit trees

What is the best place to plant my bare root fruit trees?

Choosing the ideal planting space for your bare root fruit trees will depend on your individual needs and the space you have. Bear your space in mind when selecting bare root fruit trees. You may want to aim for a dwarf rootstock variety if you have less space, for example.

Overall, you should not need any greater or significantly different space for a bare root fruit tree than a potted one. Be sure your fruit trees have room to flourish without excessive pruning or capping.

When is the best time to plant my bare root fruit trees?

The best time to plant will depend on which hardiness zone you live in! But, bearing in mind that all bare root fruit trees should be planted in the cooler months while they are still dormant, a reliable planting window is from January through March.

A great practice for gauging when it’s time to plant bare root fruit trees in your area is to look for when your local nurseries begin selling bare root stock. Local availability is usually an indicator your location is in season for planting bare root fruit trees.

Remember that certain fruit trees, like stone fruits, tend to awaken from dormancy earlier. Other late-season fruits like apples tend to wake up later. So if you have a variety of bare root fruit trees to plant, you should always start with the early wakers first.

Wrapping Up Bare Root Fruit Trees

Excited to start buying and planting bare root fruit trees in your landscaping? Now it’s time to choose the fruit tree variety that’s perfect for you! Check out our Fruit Trees page for ideas on what fruit to grow, how to grow it, and much more.