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Gardeners Grow Together Week 13, March 2021: Bare Root Perennials

Welcome to my special gardening page for those of you who like to garden yourselves! Each week, I will make suggestions as to what gardening tasks we need to do every week during the growing season. It will help keep you on track--as well as myself!

To keep things simple, I am using the year's weekly number, Week #1 through #52 (example: the week of January 1 is Week #1), instead of specific dates.

So, come on! Let's get our hands dirty!


It's time to plant bare root perennials and shrubs.

What is a "bare root" plant and why should you plant them?

How to plant a bare root plants


What is a "bare root" plant, and why should you plant them?

Late March and early April is a great time to plant "bare root" perennials, shrubs and trees. These are plants that are essentially, just a root and a stem, with little or no foliage...Yet! It's a great way to save money and also get bigger plants in the bargain. There is also a much wider range of plants and varieties available, as they are field grown and therefore required much less labor and operating expenses than potted plants that you can buy at the garden store.

Bare root plants are dug when the plant is dormant, so there is less transplant shock. When planted in the early spring, it doesn't disrupt their natural growing patterns. When the soil warms, it stimulates root growth before the leaves and flowers appear, making for a much stronger and healthier plant in the long run. Potted plants in active growth have a much harder time establishing themselves with all the energy required by leaves and flowers that really needs to go into root growth instead.

Most shrubs and woody vines are available as bare root stock. Plants like roses, clematis, trumpet vine, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, viburnum (snowball bush), etc.

Then there is a long, long list of herbaceous perennials, like peonies, hosta, hardy geranium, bleeding heart, phlox, hardy ferns and many, many more.

All these plants are available either through garden centers, big box stores or mail order right now. You can usually get several plants in a bag or box for the same price, or less than, one potted plant, too!

How to plant bare root plants

It is important that you get the plants in the ground as soon as possible, so it's preferable that you have planned where you are going to place it in the garden, and that you have the ground prepared properly beforehand.

Remove the plants from what ever packaging it came in. In the case of multiple plants in a bag or box, separate them, they are usually tangled together. With roses and other woody shrubs, snip off any broken roots and stems, then snip off he just the ends of each root. Soak all bare root plants in a bucket of water for at least an hour, but no longer than two. While you are waiting, pre-dig very generous holes. There's an old saying that says, "Dig a $5 hole for a $1 plant".

For most sun loving, woody plants, like roses* and flowering shrubs, put only a shovel full of garden compost at the bottom of the hole for a boost. Save the rest for a top dressing that will slowly work its way into the soil; otherwise, the roots will stay where they are, circle around the hole and actually become "root bound" like it would in a pot. You want the roots to reach out into the surrounding soil in search of nutrients. Pro Tip: Digging a square hole helps prevent the roots from circling! Refill half-way with the soil you dug out originally, then fill the hole with water to make sure the roots are well settled and have sufficient moisture. Once the water has soaked in, finish filling the hole with he remaining soil, water thoroughly, again, and then top with a few inches of garden compost and mulch.

*Most roses are grafted to a root stock and have a "knuckle" where the roots and stems meet. Be sure to bury the graft at least two inches below the surface to prevent the root stock from sprouting.


For clematis, peonies, and other herbaceous plants (those that die back to the ground every year), give them all of the compost you can in the hole and then mulch heavily on top.

Clematis like to have their roots in the cool shade and their flowers in the warm sun, so plant the roots deep, about six inches above the root top of the root ball. Use lots of organic compost in the hole to retain moisture, and then mulch well.

The only mulching exception are peonies. Plant them no deeper than two inches above the crown, or they won’t bloom. Use mulch, but leave a margin of about six inches around the crown free of mulch. When peonies refuse to bloom, it is almost always because they are buried too deeply.

Bare root planting can open up an exciting new range of plants to enjoy in the garden. Give them a try!

Now, let's get busy! If you have questions, put them in the comments below!

~Lee Ann~

Valmont Valley Farm

Where Beautiful Magic is Always in Bloom

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