For the best price and selection, buy your plants bare root.
If you live where the soil does not stay frozen over the winter you can take advantage of bare root planting. During the winter many woody plants go dormant. Deciduous plants will drop their leaves as sap slows and they go into a form of sleep until springtime wakes them up for another bout of active growth. During this snooze period these plants will suffer less when damaged – even the less noticeable damage that occurs to fine root-hairs when they are planted.
One of the advantages of winter planting is the influx of un-potted plants pouring into garden centers and nurseries. Because these trees and shrubs are lighter, less bulky and easier to ship, there is a larger inventory of bare-root plants during this time of year, giving you much greater choice in trees, shrubs, roses and other woody plants. You can even find asparagus crowns and strawberries wrapped in moss or wood shavings instead of growing in soil. These plants are not only easier to transport, they are less expensive to buy this way. They also take up less display space in garden centers so you will get a wider choice of varieties than at any other time of the year.
When you buy bare-root plants, soak them in water while you prepare the area where they will be planted. Make sure you dig a hole that allows the bottom of the underground growth to sit on firm soil, but offers plenty of side space for growth. Clip off any broken or damaged roots before planting. Most trees will benefit from a light branch pruning, too, after they are planted and watered in. If the weather is dry, consider watering the hole before planting to make sure moisture will have penetrated well below the root area. Keep your new garden residents well watered but not sodden until they are in active growth. Then make sure they are watered deeply, allowing the soil surface to dry out, as they become established in your garden. Adding a top dressing of mulch is a good idea to insulate new roots. Most woody plants will be happily settled into their new homes after a year or two. Give them extra attention when they are new, expecially when just planted.
Then watch your plants bud out happily when the spring weather encourages your bare-root plants back into growth. It will be like they wake up to find themselves all snuggled into their new homes and ready to go. Buying un-potted shrubs and trees is easy on both you and your plants.