How to Plant a Bare-Root Tree or Shrub
Bare-root trees and shrubs are an economical alternative to those sold as balled-and-burlapped or in containers. Follow these tips on how to plant them.
When selecting a planting site, consider the plant's needs. Determine its soil and light requirements. If it grows best in full sun and a well-drained soil, don't plant it in a shady, poorly draining site. Consider its growth habit; place the shrub in a location where it can grow tall and wide without the interference of overhead power lines or nearby plants, walls, buildings or other structures. Otherwise you may be adding unnecessary extra work for yourself by having to prune the shrub so it doesn’t grow into the power lines or over walkways.
Dig a planting hole two to three feet wider than the root ball to allow plenty of room for the roots. Planting depth should be equal to the height of the root ball. Score the sides of the planting hole to loosen the soil and make it easier for the shrub's roots to penetrate.
Remove the shrub from the pot and inspect the root ball (Image 1). Typically the root growth will have been compressed by growth inside the pot. If the shrub is rootbound, use a sharp implement, such as a trowel, knife or pruners, to divide and loosen the roots (Image 2). Once you've loosened the roots, place the root ball into the hole (Image 3). Plant the shrub so that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with the loosened native soil that was removed from the hole. Firmly but gently press the soil in place; take care not to pack the soil or the roots may have difficulty growing and penetrating the soil.
Note: Experts used to recommend adding soil amendments when planting trees, but research proves that it's better not to improve the soil. Rich soil in the planting hole discourages roots from venturing into the leaner surrounding soil and becoming well anchored. Simply fill the hole in with the native soil, and pack it down lightly to get rid of air pockets.
The most important step to planting is watering the shrub immediately after planting. This helps to minimize the shock of the roots during the transplanting process and keep the plant hydrated. Monitor the watering of the newly planted shrub throughout the growing season, and apply adequate amounts of moisture as needed, especially during periods of drought.
Apply a 2" to 3" layer of mulch around the base of the shrub. The mulch will help the soil retain moisture and combat weeds around the base of the shrub. Avoid placing the mulch directly at the base of the trunk as this may allow water to collect here and cause rot problems.
If planting on a slope or hillside, form a berm on the downhill side of the plant to catch rainwater and runoff as it runs down the hill.
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