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How To Plant Bare Rooted Plants

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Help To Get Those Babies Growing!

In the depths of winter, when not a thing was growing in my garden, I found a couple of online plant catalogs and settled down to drool over all the wonderful flowers on offer. It's a dangerous thing to have a credit card and an online plant catalog as the two work so well together!

After agonizing over all the flowers just beyond my finger tips, I ordered a whole bunch of plants which would only be shipped to me in spring. Of course, by now I have not only forgotten which sites I ordered from but, to a large extent, which plants I've ordered!

My Bag Of Bare Rooted Goodies

My bag of bare root goodies
Credit: KathyRM

My first load of plants arrived yesterday and I was intrigued that so many plants could come in such a small box. Until I opened it and found that all the perennials had been delivered as bare root plants with not a leaf on them. I'm not a great bare root plant fan because sometimes they come completely dried out or, like when I bought a box of bare root plants at a discount store, disappeared!  However, if the company is worth its salt, the little darlings should be in good condition when they arrive and the ones that came yesterday were.

So I thought I would show any new gardener out there how to plant bare root plants to give them the best chance of growing well.

Typical Bare Root Perennials

Various bare rooted plants
Credit: KathyRM

Bare root plants come in all shapes and sizes, from these little geraniums shown here to trees. But the  basics are the same for all of them.  The most important thing to do first is to read the planting instructions that come with the plants because some like to be planted with the growth point at ground level, some with the crown slightly above and others a couple of inches below.

You can see some examples here from left:

The Echinacea roots are plump and firm. The plants are just showing their first shoots.

The Hosta roots are large, plum and firm. Their shoots are quite advanced, more than they should be.

If I had spotted these geranium twigs in the  compost patch I would have left them there to decompose.

But, as you can see, little shoots are appearing even though it’s quite difficult to work out where they are appearing from! Although the roots don’t look like much, the shoots themselves look nice and hopeful.

Always check the state of the plants. If they are too dried out or if they are diseased they probably won’t make it.

The examples I am using to plant for this article are bare rooted Hostas as they are big enough to photograph easily.  I bought them unsuspectingly at a hardware store the other day, thinking they were bulbs, not bare roots. When I opened them they had started to sprout so time was of the essence. Luckily, I had just the spot for them so planted them out straight away. My bed has had compost added so is nice and friable.

Planting Instructions

Step 1

Ground covers that grow in shade
Credit: KathyRM

First, dig a hole that is deep enough and wide enough to spread the roots of the plants in. In this case the planting instructions say to plant the growth tip just under the surface. As these have already sprouted, I am placing its base just below the surface.

Step 2

Add plant food to the hole
Credit: KathyRM

Add some plant food to give the shoots a head start. I have organic plant food but often use super phosphate as it is excellent for root growth.  I often cover the fertilizer with soil so that the roots are not in direct contact when planted.

Step 3

Perennial ground cover
Credit: KathyRM

Pop the plant into the hole and gently fill in the soil around the roots. Then firm in gently. (Not too hard, you don’t want to compact the soil too much).

Step 4

Water in your plants
Credit: KathyRM


Always water in your new plants, whether they are bare rooted plants, seedlings or pot plants. By doing this you make sure the roots make contact with the soil. They can’t get their food and water from air pockets.

Water them in even if the soil is already damp. I scattered some snail bait around the plants because snails adore Hostas.

Happy Hosta

Baby Hosta, growing well
Credit: KathyRM

My baby hosta just a few days later. The growth as been phenomenal. Don’t expect this from bare root plants that have not yet sprouted. I planted some columbines a few weeks ago and they are just starting to show now.

Geranium Bare Root

Geranium bare root
Credit: KathyRM


This geranium is literally just a root with tiny shoots coming off it.  Because of the way it is shaped and because it wants its crown at surface level, I just dug a longer, shallow hole, laid the root along the bottom of it and watered it in.

Planting bare root
Credit: KathyKM

Doesn't look like much yet but in a few weeks time this geranium will be up and running.



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