Winter planting of bare root shrubs and trees

Winter planting of bare root shrubs and trees

Winter is the ideal time to plant deciduous trees and shrubs, including roses. Follow this step-by-step guide by our partners, Amateur Gardening.

Container-grown shrubs and trees can be planted at any time of year, thanks to modern growing techniques (though you pay a higher price for this convenience). But before these were introduced, most hardy, deciduous trees and shrubs were sold ‘bare root’ – with no soil around the roots. The advantages are a bigger range of varieties to choose from, and substantially lower costs because postage is cheaper. Because they're dormant, being dug up and sent across the UK does not harm them.

Planted correctly, bare root trees and shrubs establish quickly. They’re available from specialist nurseries by mail order until the end of February, and should be planted as soon as possible when you receive them, providing your garden's soil is neither frozen nor waterlogged.

From apple trees and currant bushes to native hedge whips (small hedge plants) or ornamental specimens such as the dogwood Cornus kousa (pictured), all can be planted bare root, in the same way. Here's how:

1. Stand the roots in water. When plants arrive, remove all the packaging and stand the roots in a bucket of water for a couple of hours.

2. Prepare the planting site. While the roots are soaking, prepare the site by digging in lots of well-rotted garden compost or manure over a wide area. On poor soil, add a generous dressing of Growmore fertiliser, then rake the soil level.

3. Choose your planting spot and dig a hole wider than the roots of the plant, and slightly deeper. Break up the base of the hole with a fork, adding a little compost and a couple of handfuls of bonemeal fertiliser. Scatter the same amount of bonemeal over the soil you dug from the hole (this will be used to backfill).

4. Retrieve your plant from the bucket, and check the depth of the hole. In most cases the plant needs to stand in the soil at the same depth it was previously growing. This will be indicated by a ring or a colour change around the stem at the point where the rootball meets the stem/trunk of the plant.

You can check the depth by laying a cane across the planting hole and raising or lowering the plant until the soil ring is level with the cane (pictured).

There is one particular exception to this. Grafted roses should be planted with the graft union – a distinct bulge on the stem just above the rootball – 2in (5cm) below soil level.

5. Plant it. Hold your plant at the right level, with roots in the hole, and push soil back into the hole around and in between the roots. Hold the plant steady and firm the soil as you go. With all the soil returned to the planting hole, firm it carefully using your heel, pressing hard to remove air pockets and give the plant stability.

6. For trees or tall shrubs, add a support stake. Drive this into the soil diagonally, on the downwind side of the plant stem, so it’s almost touching at about a third of the height of the stem. Secure the stem to the stake with a tree tie (pictured).

Water very thoroughly, then mulch over the rootball with garden compost, keeping it a couple of inches clear of the trunk/stem of the plant. Finally, enjoy the satisfaction of having planted something that will give enjoyment for many years to come.