Bare Rooted Trees and Planting
Sometimes I'm so entrenched in this tree growing and permaculture world I forget that not everyone is so well informed. I know I received a few funny looks when I pulled what looked like a "dead stick" out of the garden and handed it to people!
Bare rooted mean that the trees are not in pots and have not been grown in pots. They are field grown and then removed (while still dormant) for sale. While a tree is "dormant" and sleeping for the winter, it doesn't actually need to be in soil as long as the roots are protected and special attention is paid to the conditions of the plant.
Bare rooted trees are usually preferred by orchardists and serious planters for many reasons. They rarely suffer transplant shock and over the short and long term establish much better root systems, making them much hardier trees. They are not "root bound" like potted trees and have been grown in much more natural conditions than most nursery trees. They are not forced to grow so fast and outpace their root systems, which is often the case for potted plants. While potted plants can spend the first 1-2 years getting established and surviving the stress of transplanting (often multiple times in their young lives), bare rooted plants are able to start "growing" right away. They wake up for the season in their new homes and take off! Often by the 3rd season they reach the exact same size of their larger and more showy counterparts. The long term potential of these trees when planted properly is usually much greater than potted trees.
The other great thing about bare rooted plants is that in most cases we are able to offer them at a much lower price then potted trees, as we save on the astronomical shipping from Manitoba. Also by avoiding shipping 5 gallons of dirt attached to a tree, we are able to reduce our environmental footprint, which is of course part of the reason we plant trees in the first place...right?!
Of course bare rooted trees are a bit more delicate and if you are purchasing bare rooted trees, please plan to plant them ASAP. They will come with the roots wrapped for protection and it's suggested to soak them in water for 30-60 minutes immediately prior to planting. If you are not planting immediately they can usually survive a couple days with the roots wrapped, stored in a cool place and misted regularly. If it's going to be longer than 2 days until you plant, it's suggested to temporarily plant them in the garden or a large pot, until you are putting them in there forever home. Failure to follow this will likely kill your tree and make you ineligible for a replacement.
While you're still reading, I also wanted to address a common misconception. You DO NOT need to wait to plant your trees and shrubs until there is no risk of frost as your would with annuals or vegetables. In fact, it's WRONG to wait at all and BEST to plant them as soon as possible. Even right now if you happen to have a tree or want to move an established tree. There's an old piece of wisdom that you should only plant trees in months containing a "C", yup that means March and October (and I guess December if you can somehow break the earth)!