Spring is almost here and plants are already hitting the shelves in stores, some as bare root stock wrapped in spagnum moss or a small amount of peat moss, surrounded with a pretty plastic bag.
For those of you who ordered through one of the many mail order companies that can be found online or through various catalogs, those orders are beginning to roll in as well.
However it is a bit risky to begin planting these items in our gardens, which is why understanding how to care for bare root stock is so important.
Bare Root Stock Needs Care As Soon As It Arrives
Most of the plants are either bare root, or contain a minimum amount of soil or other suitable packing material that really won’t allow the plants to survive for very long unless they are properly planted.
While it is possible to open many of the packages, put a few drain holes in the bottom of the plastic baggies and water them on a regular basis until it is safe to plant them outside if that is only a day or two away, this technique can be unsuccessful.
When plant roots are surrounded by plastic, the heat from natural or artificial lights can cause the roots to overheat and die.
It is also difficult for plant roots to properly breathe when they are wrapped in plastic.
Sometimes the plants arrive bare root or maybe even the bulbs you purchased are beginning to grow, but they aren’t in soil because either you didn’t get them planted last fall or its too soon to plant them right now.
This too can be a real problem if it isn’t handled properly.
While some plants and bulbs will be ok like this for a short period of time, provided they receive the proper care and watering methods, it is not a wise choice for the typical home gardener to attempt to get these plants to survive under these harsh conditions.
Water, Fertilize And Root Trim
For those who are brand new to growing plants, this technique might seem a bit scary, but it’s what is done in the nurseries and you too should do it.
Woody perennials such as trees and shrubs as well as roses need to have any broken or damaged roots cut off immediately upon arrival.
Then put the bare roots into a bucket of water with a small amount of fertilizer in it.
The typical fertilizer dosage is 1/4 of the recommended amount on the label, however some fertilizers do give instructions for bare root plants, so read the label first!
Warm water is best for soaking the plants in.
It is ok to allow dormant plants to soak for up to 24 hours, but no longer.
When you transfer them to soil, use the water from the bucket to give them a good drink.
The next step is to decide where you are going to keep the plants until it is time to plant them outdoors.
Keep Your Bare Root Stock Dormant
Here are a few tips to ensure that your plants will remain healthy and be ready to move into the garden after the last frost date.
First, pot the plants up into an appropriate size pot using a good draining potting mix.
For the time being it will not harm the plants to grow them in a sunny window.
If they are not budding out, you could place them in a garage or basement for the time being to try to prevent them from leafing out, but don’t forget to water.
Temperatures of at least forty degrees should be maintained for this brief time period.
When you water plants that are living under cooler conditions you will need to water less frequently.
You do not want the plants roots or buds to freeze.
This could mean instant death for the plant.
Bulbs that are wet and then freeze usually turn to mush when they begin to thaw.
Grow The Plants Indoors Until The Proper Planting Time
If you decide to grow the plants indoors until proper planting time, be sure to check the soil at least weekly to see if it is dry.
The biggest mistake people make is in their watering techniques.
Over watering is just as bad as under watering.
The trick is to learn when the soil is slightly on the dry side and then water.
To determine this, stick your finger down into the soil and see what it feels like about a half an inch down.
If you are unsure if the soil is damp enough, you can always get a moisture meter and use it in place of your finger.
Once you have finished watering, be sure to dump the excess water that has collected in the tray underneath the plant.
The only exception to this rule is if the plants soil is so dry it cannot readily absorb the water in which case the plant might need to sit in water for a few hours so it can absorb enough water.
Monitor this situation carefully so you do not end up overwatering the plant.
The plants also need adequate light.
While a sunny window will work if that’s all you have, grow lights work better.
To prevent a lot of soft growth that is likely to get damaged when you do plant them outdoors, putting them in a protected area outside when temperatures are above freezing is ideal.
Then at night or when daytime temperatures dip, bring them back indoors.