Q: How do I select and grow bare-root plants?
— Piet Menting,
San Luis Obispo
A: A wide variety of plants are sold in bare-root form. Bare-root plants are perennials that are stored and sold without soil while they are in their dormant or non-growing phase. When planted, the bare-root will begin to grow again. This method of purchase has its advantages. Bare roots generally cost less, and because the roots are often visible, problems with the roots can be readily detected.
When selecting a bare-root plant, try using your senses. The plant should smell clean or earthy. You should not see or smell mold or mildew. The plant should feel heavy, not light, dried out or brittle. Visually, it should be free of damage and healthy in appearance.
After you have made your selection, it is important to keep roots moist at all times. Also essential is to protect bare-root plants from extreme cold. It is best to plant them outside once the soil has thawed; this should only be a problem in the North County. To plant, dig a hole that is deep and wide enough to prevent bending or crowding of roots. Clip off any damaged roots. Make sure the crown of the plant (where the roots meet the top shoots or trunk) is level with the soil. Spread the roots out evenly and use good soil. The plant may need to be staked.
Once in the ground, water your plant until it is established. Mulch is useful to prevent weeds and keep in moisture. Now it is time to wait. But be warned, it won’t take long before leaves begin to sprout and your “bare” will have successfully woken from its winter slumber.