In Southern California, bareroot planting season is upon us. For gardeners, it is the best time of year to plant a variety of fruit trees, roses and selected other plants.
The advantages of planting during bareroot season are numerous. It is the most economical way to plant — bareroot plants are a fraction of the cost of growing potted plants. In addition, there are many more types of plants available for purchase during bareroot season.
Because bareroot plants aren’t subject to “transplant shock” like container-
grown plants, there is less trauma and a greater chance the plants will become successfully established.
In addition, bareroot season allows plants to begin growing a strong root system before the blazing summer heat descends.
Small planting window
On the other hand, the window for planting bareroot fruit trees is narrow, basically now until early March. Plus, gardeners will snap up the most sought-after trees and other plants as soon as they arrive in local nurseries.
Pro tip uy your bareroot plants at a Santa Clarita Valley nursery, not from a “big box” store. Local nurseries offer expert advice and the best selection of trees and plants known to thrive in the SCV microclimate.
You can order bareroot plants online, but with the unique SCV climate you will be taking a chance on getting a plant unsuitable for the area.
If you can’t plant right away, place the root ball in loosely packed potting soil and place in a cool, shady spot. Don’t let the roots dry out, and plant as soon as possible.
Shopping for plants
When shopping for trees, look for straight trunks, no less than 1/2-inch to no more than 2-inches across, with branches that radiate from all sides of the trunk. Look at the root ball and choose more roots over fewer ones. The roots should be firm, not soft and mushy. The packing material, typically sawdust, should be heavy with moisture.
When shopping for roses and other plants, make sure the plants have not yet sprouted and that the roots are moist. When you pick up the bag it should feel “heavy.” A “light” bag is a warning that the packing material has dried out, and most likely the roots, as well.
When it’s time to plant, shake off all the packing material, then soak the root ball in a tub of water for an hour, or two, just before planting. Do not soak for hours and hours.
Most fruit trees and roses are grafted, meaning that each plant consists of two sections. The top is called the scion, and the bottom is called the rootstock.
Set grafted plants so the graft union (a swollen area near the base of the trunk or main stem) sits two or three-inches above soil level. This is crucial, if you bury the graft union you will kill the plant. Planting a bare-root too deep is the number one mistake novice gardeners make.
Dig a wide hole so there is a large “basin” several inches deep to hold water.
Spread the roots out and backfill with the soil dug from the hole mixed with peat, compost, manure or other organic planting mix. With the high clay content of SCV soils it is important to add organic material that will “aerate” the soil and allow for greater water absorption. Many experts advise adding bone meal to the soil.
Use your hands, or the handle end of the shovel, to gently tamp down the soil and force air pockets out.
Soak your plant immediately with water to force out any air holes.
You may need to stake a bareroot during the first year of life, but long-term “staking” is not recommended. Trees should be encouraged to develop strong roots to “stand” on their own.
It is not recommended to fertilize plants until you see spring growth.
Apply two to three inches of bark mulch over the planting hole. Mulching helps conserve water and prevent weeds. Taper the mulch toward the base of the plant.
Watering is critical. Water generously once a week during the first year. The roots should never dry out completely, but not be waterlogged. The best way to check soil moisture is to stick your finger in the dirt. Dig down as deep as you can with your finger and if the dirt feels dry, then water.
Newly planted bareroots should be checked and watered every other day for the first two weeks. After the first two weeks, limit watering to once a week. Thorough soakings that moisten the soil to the entire depth of the root mass are better than frequent light watering.