an image of tall trees with no leaves swaying in wind

Planting Bare-Root Trees: The Trees Direct Guide

When the big jumpers come out of storage, and the clinking of central heating systems can be heard in homes up and down the country, it means only one thing…winter will soon be upon us.

The air might be getting colder, but now is a good time to get out into the garden, believe it or not.

The soil at this time of year is still warm and incredibly active, particularly in late autumn and early winter which is why it’s such a perfect time to plant.

Roots still go about their business throughout winter and even though it may look as though everything is entirely dormant above ground.


What Are Bare-Root Trees?


an image of a nursery of bare root trees


Bare Root trees are trees that have been grown naturally in fields. Once winter sets in, the plants, usually deciduous, enter a dormant or inactive phase, only to remerge as actively growing plants again in the spring.

It is while they are in this dormant phase that bare root trees are carefully lifted from the ground, and the soil washed clean from the roots. As the trees are dormant, raising them in this way causes the least stress to the plant.

Many deciduous shrubs, trees and hedging plants, along with some evergreens, are available as bare root plants while they’re dormant between November and April. Despite the dormancy, the roots will quietly establish and grow away below ground, ready to fuel a fabulous display of flowers and foliage once the soil warms up in the spring.

The bare root season extends from early November through to mid-April; however, this may vary slightly subject to weather conditions and autumnal and spring temperatures.

During this period, the plants are dormant and can be lifted and transplanted.


The Best Way to Plant a Tree


Ever since the first tree was planted, it’s quite likely that there has been considerable debate about the best way to plant a tree.

Always plant trees to the same level they were in the pots or, in the case of bare roots, the mark left from the soil at the nursery, always making sure the roots are entirely covered. Take care not to damage the roots in any way as this can cause death or a slowing of growth.

As you begin refilling the hole, be sure to gently move the soil a little to ensure it sets around the roots.

And remember, all trees enjoy a handful of bone meal, fish blood or root grow in the bottom of the hole before planting.

After filling the hole, firm it around the base and water generously. Larger trees will need a stake while smaller ones might only need a cane. If you have a rabbit or deer problem tree guards are essential.


How to Prepare Your Soil: Do’s & Don’ts



A good plot of soil filled with micro-organisms is like a highly-efficient workplace, where every employee is engaged, buoyant and pulling in the same direction. Bad soil, just like a poor working environment, is the exact opposite of all those things and will leave you with nothing but dull, lifeless and unproductive soil.


The Do’s

  • Ensure the roots are moist well before planting – soaking them overnight is recommended if the roots are really dry, but usually, a few hours in a bucket will do the job.
  • Before you plant the tree, remove the top layer of compost from the rootball. This will clear any weeds or moss that has grown.
  • In areas where root coverage is very dense, it’s important to gently spread them out to encourage the roots to spread out.
  • When you dig your hole, make sure it’s at least three times as big as the width of the rootball and fold the soil in the base of the hole to prevent compaction before you plant the tree.
  • Even if it has rained or is expected to do so, be sure to water.
  • Mulching with a two-inch layer of compost and a soil conditioner helps, not only to prevent weed build up, but also to keep the roots warm and therefore active throughout winter. 


The Don’ts


ice on window forming a beautiful pattern


  • Don’t plant when the soil is entirely sodden or when you can see frost on the ground – ice buildup under the surface can remain for weeks and creates an environment which slows down roots as they try to establish themselves.
  • Always remember to keep watering during the first twelve months after planting. It’s hard to forget when we have long, dry summers. But, crucially, windy, dry springs can also be fatal.


What Are Your Roots Telling You?

At Trees Direct, we dispatch trees with bare roots, no soil or pots. Selling trees this way is kinder to the environment and much more economical. Bare-rooted trees are only available during the trees dormant period which is once the weather gets cold and the leaves are dropping off. They can be planted from November to April, again depending on the weather.

The beauty of bare roots is that they come in large clumps and once they come into contact with soil, they are able to establish very quickly. In the same way that you can tell a lot about someone’s personality by what shoes they wear, you can also understand a lot about a root by its appearance.


Long, Billowing Tap-Roots


an example of a tap root diagram

These kinds of roots suggest an unusual tolerance to drought, which means it may be able to survive when others can’t, thanks to its carrot-shaped roots that absorb moisture from deep within the ground.


Fragile, Fleshy Roots


fleshy pale plant roots


Fragile, fleshy roots are a definite sign that the associated plants love rich, easy-to-root soil. Fork leafmould into the ground and ensure you top them up with an annual mulch.


Clumps With Intertwining, Fibrous Roots


a diagram of fibrous roots


Clumps of intertwining, fibrous roots excel in common soils found in the garden. The spread of the root means that the plant itself is capable of surviving through periods of neglect or long draughts.


Encourage Roots



Improving background fertility is a more genuine approach to planting, which forgoes the use of potentially harmful chemicals.

These days mycorrhizal planting powders are very much in vogue. The powder, containing a symbiotic fungus, is sprinkled onto the roots where they merge together and create a secondary root system, just as they would in nature. What follows is a relationship of mutual benefit, the plant supplies food processed from the leaves to the fungi, and the fungi provides nutrients and water taken from a larger surface area.


The benefit, of course, is that the plant establishes more quickly and develops a healthier and much more extensive root system.

If you’re planning on planting bare-rooted trees, then now is the perfect time to do so, before the weather gets too frozen, wet and icy.

If you have any questions about planting bare-rooted trees or any of our other products, why not contact us on 01584 380 001 to take advantage of our free advice line.