How to Plant Bare Root Trees and Shrubs
Among other things, mature trees and shrubs deter erosion, filter harmful carbon and pollutants from the atmosphere, pump out life-giving oxygen, produce copious free organic composting material (and exercise!) in the form of leaves, offer you cool shade, and provide homes for wildlife.
When you initially purchase any bare root specimen, be it tree, shrub, rose bush, or vine. it might initially look like little more than a leafless twig. So how do you get from there to a mighty world-rejuvenating oak?
Your first task is to plant your bare root tree or shrub. While you can hold off planting a potted or balled-and-burlapped (B&B) specimen for weeks, waiting that long is the kiss of death for a bare root tree or shrub.
Since it doesn't have any soil to protect or nourish its roots, it needs to be put into the ground as soon as possible.
That said, your bare root specimen isn't going to shrivel up and die immediately. In most cases, you'll have about a week to work with it. In the interim, of course, you'll need to use various means to protect those naked roots and keep them moist.
Once you've gotten your bare root tree or shrub home, soak them in water for 12-24 hours to give the plant a head start. Whatever you do, be sure to keep the plant shaded and moist until you're ready to transplant it.
When it's time to do the deed, spread out the roots carefully and examine them closely.
Prune away any damaged or broken roots, and then dig a hole that can accommodate the entire width and depth of the root spread without crowding. The edges of the hole should be left rough.
If you're not careful, it's easy to polish or "glaze" the sides of the hole while digging, especially if your soil is clay-rich. Once it dries, this glazing can form a near-impenetrable barrier to moisture and roots.
You can treat your bare root tree or shrub like any other plant once it's in the hole you've dug for it. Keep it vertical as you backfill, and add water regularly to help settle the soil. After you've filled the hole, form a little ridge around the plant with the extra soil to help retain water, and fortify it with a 3-4 inch thickness of shredded wood mulch. When you're finished with that, water it copiously.
If you've planted a shrub, you're done; if you've planted a tree, however, you might want to steady it until it gets settled in. To do so, drive in 2 or 3 stakes around the tree about 10 feet out from the trunk, and tie guy-lines made of soft rope between each stake and the tree. You can safely remove this set-up after the first growing season.