Go bare this winter

Go ‘bare’ this winter and consider adding a bare-root tree to your garden. Little more than springy sticks with some roots at the bottom, bare-root trees take a little bit of imagination and patience to visualise how they might look, but they are a simple and cost-effective way to add a splash of colour, fruit, flowers or, quite possibly, all of the above.

Being deciduous, bare-root specimens have shed all their leaves and entered a period of dormancy, much like a lot of us do when it comes to winter gardening! This makes them relatively cheap for suppliers to ship and more affordable for us to buy. The range and variety is more extensive but, again, imagination is sometimes needed to visualise how it might look in full growth.

Not to lull any of you into a hibernation of your own, but care still needs to be taken once you acquire bare-root beauties. The most important thing to remember is not to let the roots dry out. It may be dormant, or chances are you’ll kill it before it’s even had a chance to become one of your garden favourites.

At the nursery, they will usually be ‘heeled in’, meaning it’ll be temporarily bedded into some moist compost or potting mix to keep the roots from drying out. If you haven’t prepared a planting hole in advance, then you can do something similar at home but avoid leaving them in the damp sawdust (which a lot of them may be wrapped in) for any longer than a few days, a week at the most.

The planting hole, at this point in time, is rather important you’d have to say. However, don’t panic, it’s easy to rectify if you haven’t dug one ahead of time, just grab a spade and dig. Soak your tree in a tub of water with a bit of seaweed solution while you prepare this hole, making sure you wash off all the sawdust before planting.

‘Wider than it is deep’ is a rather vague digging guide, but aim for a hole about 40 to 50cm wide and deep enough that the tree remains at the same level it was when it was happily growing in a field somewhere. Be extra careful not to bury any graft points.

Don’t prune any of the roots unless you see obvious damage, as they will already have been pruned at the nursery for transport. Add in some well-rotted compost and form a mound to spread the roots out on. Opinions vary, but I say avoid any manure or fertiliser at this stage and wait until you see signs of new growth in spring.

Backfill with compost and firm it in around the roots, giving it a little shake as you go to ensure good soil/root contact. Water it in well with some diluted seaweed solution and that’s about all there is to it. It’s a good idea to prune away some of the top branches to encourage a healthy shape and compensate for the root loss at the nursery, but there’s no real need to stake them unless you’re planting in an exposed location.

Buying trees, shrubs and roses in bare-root form is one of the most cost- effective ways to add new features to your garden. It’s an easy winter job with plenty of upside, limited downside and a good reward for all your care and patience. So, if you’ve got the space, try going bare this winter.

Enjoy your gardening, Julian

Julian Parry is a director at Arbor Pride, an arboricultural company operating in Sydney since 2005

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