Bare root fruit trees are an economical way to plant yourself a mini orchard in your garden or allotment.
As they are available to purchase from the late autumn to early spring, they’d make a good Christmas present (or birthday present!) for a gardener.
Bare root fruit trees look different to the container grown fruit trees that you’ll see in the nursery or garden centre throughout the year.
Personally, I love choosing, buying and planting bare root fruit trees, fruit bushes, roses and more over the winter months. There’s something intrinsically satisfying about the whole process. The air of anticipation, knowing that this overgrown twig will be filled with blossom in a few months. It’s even more exciting than planting bulbs (which I also enjoy doing!)
Planting a couple of cordon fruit trees in a flower border is an easy way to get started with growing your own fruit and vegetables. Perennial fruit trees and fruit bushes are remarkably easy maintenance. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you should read some of my other blogs, or ask for a garden lesson in your own garden!
So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of buying and planting bare root fruit trees?
Bare root fruit trees – advantages
- Cheaper to buy than container grown fruit trees – on average, 30-50% less
- Unlikely to be root bound as roots have been free growing in the field
- Tend to have a larger root mass than container grown, could be as much as 200% more than a similarly sized container grown fruit tree
- Require less watering whilst settling in than container grown fruit trees
- A wide range of tree species is available. For example, apple, pear, plum, damson, greengage, cherry, quince, medlar, apricot and peach
- Within each species there will be a good range of cultivars
- A good selection of trained fruit tree forms is available. For example, single cordon, step-over, espalier, standard, half standard
- Young plants tend to establish quickly in their new location
- Easier to handle as lighter weight, so you can lift then into your car. This also means cheaper carriage costs if buying on-line.
Bare root fruit trees – disadvantages
- They need to be removed from their packaging straight away. Be sure the roots don’t dry out
- If the weather is very frosty, snowy or wet the bare root fruit trees cannot be planted straight away
- They will need some sort of ‘holding bed’ or pot. Store the trees in a cool, shaded place, such as the north side of the house, shed or garage
- You will need to protect the roots, so pack them in moist wood shavings, straw or potting soil
- Preferably, if the ground isn’t frozen, dig a trench and ‘heel in’ the trees, ie temporarily cover the roots with soil
- They tend to be young trees, so may take longer to reach fruit. Check on the age of the bare root fruit trees you’re buying if this is an issue
- Only a limited time period for purchase. Depending on the mildness of the autumn weather, bare root fruit trees are lifted, dug up, between mid-November and mid-March
- Which means there’s a limited amount of planting time available to the gardener. Bare root fruit trees need to be planted during dormancy (no leaves, or with very young leaf buds), and certainly before bud break. (When the leaf and flower buds open)
Choosing your bare root fruit trees at the nursery – what to look out for
- Look for straight trunks; ie those without dramatic curves
- The trunk should be free of wounds
- The branches should be evenly spaced along the entire trunk. If you’re buying a standard of half standard tree, the branches should radiate out in all directions
- NB, some trees won’t be branched; this would be a good purchase for a single cordon
- If you want a tree to train into an espalier, branches should be on opposite sides of the trunk
- If you can examine the roots, the more roots, the better. They should radiate in all directions; be firm and moist, not soft and mushy
- If the roots are packaged, the packing should be moist and heavy, not dry and lightweight
- Avoid plants with green buds unless you know what you’re a more experienced gardener and know what to do
Most fruit trees are grown as grafted trees, regardless of whether they’re bare root or container grown. When it comes to planting your bare root fruit trees, don’t bury the graft! You can find where it is by looking for a swelling in the trunk near the soil line.
If you look at the trunk of the tree, you should also be able to see at what level the tree was originally planted as there should be a noticeable soil line. Do not bury the graft below the soil level or the rootstock will grow rather than the grafted fruit variety. Aim to plant your tree at the original soil level.
Fruit bushes can also be purchased and planted as bare root plants. Gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants are all available. It is also possible to buy bare rooted raspberry canes and strawberry plants. The list of fruit available seems to get longer each year – I’m not complaining…
Enjoy your winter gardening with bare root fruit trees!