UC Master Gardeners

How to care for bare-root fruit trees

UC Master GardenerJanuary 8, 2014 


Fruit trees go dormant in the winter, which means they lose their leaves in preparation for new blossoms in spring.


  • Got a gardening question?

    Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners: at 781-5939 from 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday and Thursday; at 473-7190 from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Arroyo Grande; and at 434-4105 from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Templeton. Visit the UCCE Master Gardeners Web site at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or e-mail mgsanluisobispo@ucdavis.edu.

Q: What is a bare-root fruit tree?

A: As I write this, the weather is cold and the term “bare” seems both indecent and cruelly inappropriate. Perhaps we should conceal improper roots with skirts such as the way they covered table ankles in Victorian England. At the very least we should knit root warmers.

But worry not! Bare-root trees are just fine without the warmth of soil — at least during the ride home from the nursery. In fact, bare-root trees often excel over their potted friends because they don’t have to contend with the transition from potted to ground soil.

During the winter months, you will find a wide selection of trees available. Bare root trees look like something your 7-year-old made last week — just a stick with roots — but if cared for correctly, they will grow into a substantial provider. Apple, apricot, cherry, fig, peach, pear, persimmon, plum, pomegranate and prune are just a few that await your garden.

Before purchasing your tree, take a look at your yard. Fruit trees require at least 8 hours of sun and well-drained soil. If you are not sure how well-drained your soil is, dig a hole about 1 foot deep and fill it with water. Let it drain and fill it again. Soil with adequate drainage should take no more than four hours to drain. It also helps to have some knowledge of your yearly climate. Fruit production is dependent on the number of chill days you have per year.

While at the nursery, inspect the tree and roots for health. Roots should be balanced, undamaged and have an intact tap root with no cracks. Any signs of disease or pests should alert you to current or future problems you’ll want to avoid.

Plant your tree in a hole that is about 4 feet wide. Dig the hole only as deep as needed to cover the roots. Water immediately and make sure the tree soil has no air pockets.

Place three to four inches of mulch around the tree, avoiding direct contact with the trunk. Painting a coat of water-based paint diluted with water around the trunk from the ground to the first branch protects the tree from sunburn and discourages borers. Fertilizer can wait until further into the growing season.

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