A GROWING CONCERN: Get to the bare root of planting

SO GROUNDHOG DAY has come and gone. One thing I know for sure is that regardless of whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, here on the Peninsula, we never have winter.

Look at how the grass is greening up and growing. See how the bulbs are emerging and blooming. Notice the buds are swelling on your spring-blooming woody ornamentals. And with this mild weather inherent to the Olympic Peninsula and the arrival of February, we are now in bare-root season.

A bare root plant is defined as “of or relating to a tree, shrub or bush prepared for transplants by having all or most of its soil removed from about its roots.”

Bare root is a technique in arboriculture (i.e. woody plants) where a plant is removed from soil in a dormant state, from which it can more rapidly acclimate to new soil and environmental conditions.

There are several other reasons to buy bare-root plants, but by far the best reason is how well they “root in” and grow, leaf out, and produce flowers or fruit.

The first reason you buy bare-root plants is because they are superior in growth to all other forms of trees (burlap and bald, potted, caged).

A very close second is the cost versus size ratio.

Bare-root plants are the best deal because you get so much more plant for the buck. It cost the vendor far less to ship them in, display them and care for them.

In fact, due to the size of bare-root items, a tree selling for $19.95, come the end of a March when bare-root season is over, they will plant it up in a great big pot and sell for $79.95.

It is a real bargain, so purchase bare-root botanicals. Also, when it is bare-root season (February-March 30) many more plant varieties can be available, especially if you are looking for fruit trees, shade trees, berries, vines, ground covers or certain perennials.

Selection is the name of the game. Why have all of your apples ripen at once? Or be flooded with blueberries, roses and strawberries, and have to drop everything to harvest your crop? Pick early, mid- and late-bearing varieties or get certain cultivars that are coveted for their fall foliage color.

Get much taller, shorter, wider or columnar plants by choosing varieties and species.

Soon, the grass will be calling out to be cut as the weeds grow, the slugs devour and the garden needs to be tilled.

Why not take advantage of the biggest trees and pick for your desire, plant at the perfect time, while you have time to plant? That, and Mother Nature will water it in for you (double bonus round).

As always, water in well several times the first day and apply bone meal to the soil.

Bone meal promotes vigorous root growth, and these plants need to grow roots.

After a really good watering (think Forks rainfall), mulch heavily as well, but never let the mulch touch the stem, cane or main stalks.

This error of piling mulch against the trunk will cause not only disease and growth problems, but for many plants, it will encourage the production of sucker shoots. All the nurseries have this week or will be receiving the truck soon.

Have fun on a gray, rainy and cool day — go around to plant vendors in your area and purchase specialized bare-root botanical wonders. Choose them based on timing, size, fall color or your own desire, but remember, bare-root items are the best economic option you have.

And with that said … stay well, all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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