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McKay Nursery Company

Bare Root: Everything You Need to Know

Sep 21, 2018 12:01:00 PM

McKay Nursery Company is one of the few nurseries that still produces bare root plants. Not a lot of people are familiar with bare root plants, or their benefits. Fall is on it’s way, and with it comes the optimal planting conditions. We have everything you need to know about the benefits of bare root so that you can have the best success in your garden and landscape.


Pictured: inside Mckay Nursery Company's bare root freezer

What is bare root?

A bare root plant is exactly as the name suggests. The bare root plant is sold with no soil on the roots versus a container plant with the roots growing in soil.They are plants dug in the late fall and early spring while they are still dormant in the field and lack any flowers and leaves. The soil has been removed from their roots and are then stored in a temperature-controlled cooler to keep them in a dormant state. They are placed in the cooler starting in October and stay there through late spring for future shipping and planting. Find out more about bare root plants by watching our video here.


Pictured: Bare root plant

Why go with bare root?

Bare root is a great alternative for a few reasons. For one, they are very easy to plant and aren’t nearly as needy as container plants after they are first planted. Since bare root plants are dormant, don’t be alarmed at the appearance of the spindly-looking plants. The lack of leaves is normal, since the frozen plants are tricked into believing it’s still winter. The frozen twigs, after planted in the fall, go into winter already familiar with the cold and come spring, will bloom with color just like other previously established plants coming out of dormancy.

Bare root plants are also significantly less expensive. Why? With a container plant, you’re paying for the container, the soil, labor that went into all of the above, and overall a good looking plant. With bare root, none of the above is a major concern. There is no container with carefully developed soil, and all the bare root plants look the same with their dormant, twiggy appearance.

Bare root plants are also easily established. We’ve all had the disappointment of when you spend time and money getting the perfect plant into your garden, and then it fails. Bare root plants take easily to the soil conditions since after being dormant, they are, in a way, starting afresh in their new home.


Pictured: Workers digging bare root plants

When should bare root be planted?

There is a limited window when bare root plants can be dug and when they can be planted. In the Midwest, it’s best for bare root plants to be planted in the fall, any time from October until the ground freezes and they can also be planted in the spring between late March or early April, into June. Remember, once you have your bare root plants, it’s best to plant them as soon as possible. If immediate planting isn’t doable, your bare root plants can be stored in their packaged state in a garage, or somewhere out of the sun that is also a cool temperature. Don’t freeze your bare root, just make sure the packaging is still moist and re-wet it is you see it drying out. Link to our video on planting a bare root plant and place this link in the section below.


Pictured: Planting a bare root plant

How is a bare root planted?

When you are ready to plant, remove the plants from the packaging, trim off any broken or damaged branches and roots and be sure to remove all of the twine on the plants completely. Soak the roots into water until you can get them into the soil. Remember to not expose the roots to sun. Make sure to check that the desired planting location is applicable with the plant requirements. Dig a hole at least 6” wider than the root mass.  The planting depth should be the same as it was grown at the nursery. Place fertilizer packets in the hole. Spread the roots and fill up halfway with soil and water until soil settles. Re-adjust plant and fill the hole with the rest of the soil. Backfill the soil firmly around the plant and water well. Find out more about planting bare root in our step by step video here.

Not all plants are available as bare root and some plants are only available in spring. Here at McKay, we offer a variety of trees, shrubs, roses, vines and fruits. Bare root plants have a great value and could be exactly what you’re looking for to have in your landscape or garden. If you’re looking to do-it-yourself, bare root plants are a fantastic option.

Check out our website to see our selection of bare root plants. Shop our plants online for in-store pickup, local truck delivery or FedEx delivery almost anywhere in the continental United States. If you’re in the Madison, Wisconsin area, stop in at our retail garden center, Winterland Nursery, for plants and landscape supplies. Be sure to check hours or call ahead as our hours change seasonally.

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