The traditional time for planting various trees, especially fruit trees, is in the winter dormant period. Specialist suppliers generally provide bare root specimens, which can be dug and shipped whenever the ground allows, but only in this dormant period. Bare root trees are said to establish more readily, whereas I have noted pot grown root balls be somewhat reluctant to spread out. They are certainly cheaper than container grown specimens, but whatever the merits or otherwise of bare root trees, many of the varieties that I am interested in are only readily available in this form.
As a certain amount of preparation is needed before planting – digging of holes, soil improvement with manure, addition of bone meal, preparation of stakes, and so on – the bare root trees sometimes arrive at an inconvenient time, before their site is properly prepared. I placed two orders with different specialist nurseries – Keepers Nursery and R. V. Roger – the latter has already arrived whilst the former will be a few weeks yet, so it is necessary to heal in the trees in a temporary location to keep them in good condition until they can be moved to their final planting position. This needs to be done before the spring growth begins so as to minimise further disturbance.
The survival of bare root plants depends critically on preventing the roots from drying out. It does not help if the shipping is delayed, but as soon as the plants arrive it is a good idea to unpack them and assess their condition. They will usually be packed with straw and ideally something around the roots to prevent drying out. If the roots are in good condition they can be planted straight away, or healed in temporarily if the planting site is not ready. If the roots look dry, submersing them in a bucket of water for an hour or two may be beneficial, but they should not be left for too long in water as they need air too. Whilst preparing to plant out, the trees are best kept in the shade, as the sun can dry the roots out very quickly.
Healing in is a simple enough matter. Utilising one of the vegetable beds, as the soil is light from recent cultivation, a rough trench was dug. If only putting in one or two trees, individual planting holes could be dug, but for the ten trees being healed in here a trench was more expedient. The trees arrived in a bundle, as is typical of bare root plants, and needed careful teasing apart. Once separated, they were laid out in the trench and soil packed around the roots of each in turn. One must be careful to observe the soil mark on the trunks and ensure that they are planted at the same depth. The trees are firmed in and given a good watering to settle the soil around the roots and ensure they are moist. A sheltered spot should be selected so as not to require staking, or the trees could be laid in the trench at a low angle so as not to suffer wind damage. Healed in in this manner, they should be quite happy to wait until their planting site in the orchard is prepared.