When there is not the expense of a container and the planting mix to fill it, the cost of a plant is far less. As long as plants remain dormant, there is no problem in handling it bare root, with little or no soil or compost clinging to the root.
So many plants are offered locally in this dormant season. While the range of available fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals is greatest as soon as stock arrives in the nursery, bare root plants will be offered through January and February. March may continue bare root planting season if the weather remains chilly.
Reading the labels on fruit trees is so enticing, your home orchard may increase in size because of the irresistible descriptions. Try to plan ahead by arriving with a list of priorities. Many fruits are not self-fruitful, meaning they will need another cultivar planted close by in order to produce a crop. Information for each fruit tree will be available in the nursery.
Beginners should start with apples or pears. While there will be years when a late frost kills hopes of a crop, these two fruits do well in many foothill microclimates.
Remember, once these same fruit trees are “potted up” they will cost more. They will also be growing in the container through the heat of summer, a challenge for any plant. Bare root stock is potentially more vigorous, and planting it in its permanent location during dormancy is good garden planning.
Raspberries are perfect for dormant season planting, their fine root systems adapting quickly to soil enriched with compost, and rock powders (colloidal phosphate and oyster shell). Prune each stalk back to the crown. Do not leave any portion of the stalk above ground. If you want to mark where the new raspberry plant is, use a small branch or piece of bamboo.
Strawberries, too, arrive bundled as bare root starts during this season of opportunity. Like the raspberries, it does not take very many plants to establish a patch. A dozen is plenty for most home gardeners. Choose your cultivar based on flavor. These strawberries will most likely be picked when fully ripe. Cultivars grown for shipping most often do not have the rich flavor of a home-grown strawberry.
Rhubarb roots are difficult to divide successfully except during dormancy. The root section will be very woody with buds at the top. Each section must have buds for growth. Fine absorbing roots grow from the primary root. Prepare a deep (18-inch minimum) hole with lots of compost and the rock powders.
Rhubarb gets large! The crown of the plant where the growth shoots appear should not be buried. Nestle the root into its new home, keeping the crown above ground. A mulch of straw also should not cover this crown.
Roses are offered by some nurseries as bare root plants, again a savings for the home gardener. Roses transplant easily during the winter months, although they may not appear dormant. Mild winter days often encourage flowering even in January. If you are transplanting an established rose, or one that has been in the landscape a short time, prune it first. Nurseries and the Master Gardener program offer free workshops on pruning.
Peony roots are offered by some nurseries. They should be planted with the” eyes” (look for buds for new growth) covered by no more than an inch and a half of compost. Planted more deeply, the peonies will develop foliage but may not flower.
Do not allow any bare root stock to dry out while you are handling it. Soak roots in a container of water until you are ready to transfer it to its permanent location. Mulch the planting and water deeply even if rains are expected.
Footnote to the column Dec. 29: A garden pest we saw a lot of on natives and non-natives last summer was tent caterpillars, not tent beetles. In my vegetable garden, I also had problems with harlequin beetles, devastating to cole crops.
Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom.” For more information about foothill gardening, or to contact Carolyn with gardening questions, visit www.carolynsingergardens.com.