Bare Root Trees and Shrubs: More Than Meets The Eye
Sure enough, most of them don't have much dirt around their roots, which might make you wonder whether they're even alive. But fear not: bare root trees and shrubs are perfectly legit, and have plenty of advantages over their potted and balled-and-bur-lapped (B&B) cousins.
Despite their appearances, bare root trees and shrubs are simply dormant -- enjoying the vegetable equivalent of hibernation, sleeping away the cool months. This is why you're most likely to see them advertised for sale in the winter or early spring.
With bare root specimens, natural dormancy cycles are used to take advantage of their innate hardiness and to save on space, materials, and costs.
They may not look like much, but decades of gardening research and experience have proven that bare root plants can handle more drastic conditions than their potted or B&B counterparts. Because they're dormant, they can be banged around and exposed to extremes of weather that might damage or kill them during their growth phase.
So no matter what it looks like to you, you can usually count on a bare root tree or shrub being more than just a dead stick.
From an environmental perspective, bare root stock is superior to just about any other type of tree or shrub you can purchase. One big advantage is the fact that bare root plants use fewer resources than their potted and B&B equivalents, since they're dormant and can be stacked during transport (which means they require less fuel per unit to ship).
They're also cleaner than potted and B&B types, because there's no soil involved, and that lack of a soil mass means that invasive plants and insect pests are much less likely to hitch a ride on bare root plant.
It's also easier to plant bare root trees and shrubs, since they're lighter and easier to handle than a potted or B&B specimen. After all, you're just planting a stick, right?
For the best results, you'll need to plant your bare root saplings in the mid-spring or mid-fall, when the soil's particularly moist.
In theory, all tree species can be prepared and planted as bare root specimens, and the same is true of woody vines, shrubs, and bushes, especially roses.
Species most likely to succeed as bare root plantings include ash, crabapple, English oak, red oak, honey locust, linden, sugar maple, Shantung maple, hybrid Freeman maple, Japanese tree lilacs, and various fruit trees.
Bare root roses and some hedging plants, like field maple and barberry, also do very well.
Of course, in order to save money and effort, you should stick to species best adapted to the place where you live. For an extensive list of trees, shrubs, and other plants by USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, click here. Just enter your ZIP code in the field labeled "What zone are you in?" click Go, and you're on your way.