If like me you love fruit and even better popping outside and picking your own fruit from your garden, balcony or terrace, then between November and April is the time to plant bare-root fruit trees.
This might be a small window, but the benefits are considerable. Not everything in the garden is ready to hibernate. Bare-root trees are called this because they are supplied with no soil around their roots.
They are grown in fields, lifted and the soil removed before sending off to garden centres, nurseries or direct to your door.
The rule of thumb is, if the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged you can continue planting in it. Planted now these will get their roots down into the soil and become stronger, more robust plants come the spring and summer, as they’ll already have a good network of robust, well-developed roots.
Bare-root trees are usually cheaper, 30-50% less than container-grown plants, are better at coping with drought conditions, barely need irrigation, take off more quicky than containerised trees and, if handled correctly, are frequently more successful in the long term as the roots are not hampered by the problems of a root-bound pot grown specimen. Often, you’ll find a greater selection of fruit trees and other edible crop trees when bare root.
The great advantage to using bare-root fruit trees is that they’re light to handle and therefore easier to deal with and because they’re planted when the tree is dormant, it gives the tree weeks of root growth that spring-planted container trees lack.
Yet, in most cases container-grown fruit trees tend to bear fruit a year or two earlier than bare root trees.
Things to look out for are straight trunks. Try and avoid those that have curves and bends. Look at the branches and ensure they’re evenly spaced and radiate in all directions.
The tree should be healthy and free of wounds. When it comes to the roots themselves, they should be firm and moist, not soft and mushy, and not dry that they snap off easily. They should also radiate in all directions, just like the branches.
Ideally you should plant them upon receipt. So, if you’ve ordered a bare-root fruit tree prepare the hole first. If you cannot plant it straight away then store it in a cold, shaded place, such as the north side of the house.
If the roots are exposed pack them with moist wood shavings or potting soil. If the ground isn’t frozen, you can dig a trench and heel the plant in until you’re ready to plant it in its final position.
Don’t allow the roots to dry out. If they’re dry upon arrival, then soak the roots in a bucket of warm water for between 30 and 60 minutes. Don’t leave them in water.
The hole should be twice the width of the root spread. Never squeeze, bend or crowd the roots into the hole.
The crown (where the trunk meets the roots) should sit at the same depth as it was planted in the field (you can normally see a soil line on the trunk), or plant it slightly above soil level ensuring all roots are in a downward direction.
Most fruit trees (the scion) are grafted onto rootstock. This will look like a swollen area at the bottom of the trunk. Ensure this graft is planted about 5cm above soil level.
Sprinkle the soil in the hole with bone meal to promote healthy root systems and stimulate plant growth and sprinkle the bare roots with mycorrhizal fungi, which creates a symbiotic association between the fungus and the plant. The fungi will absorb phosphorous and water from the soil, while the tree provides carbon and sugars for the fungi.
Backfill with the same dug out soil without adding any compost or manure. Firm the soil as you go with your hands to eliminate air pockets.
When the hole is filled create a circular mound around the trunk, which will hold water and concentrate it downwards to the roots. Mulch with homemade compost, bark or straw, ensuring the crown of the plant is not covered. Staking is not always necessary.
Bare-root fruit trees - Mark's recommendations: