Temporary storage of a bare root tree

bart1(6/7 Northern VA)February 25, 2011

I was expecting to get a bare root peach tree today or tommorow (fri or sat) with the intention of planting it this weekend. Unfortunately, it looks like it won't arrive until Monday, which means it will have spent 7 days in a box in transit.

My problem is that my house and my orchard are about 90 minutes apart and it's unlikely that I will be able to plant the tree until the following weekend or about 13 days from when it was packaged and shippped.

My question is how should I best store the tree at my home from Monday until Friday/Saturday when I take it to the orchard location?

I got somewhat contradictory advice from the nursery. They said to remove it from the box and hill it in until I was ready to plant, but they also said to try to keep it from breaking dormancy. I'm worried that if I hill it in, it will be exposed to the sun and semi-warm temperatures (50s during the day, 30s at night) and it will break dormancy. So to combat that, I was thinking of keeping it in the box, in my garage when the temperature will be more constant and will stay cooler.

What should I do if I can't get it in the ground for a week?


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misterbaby(7a/b TN)

Most importantly, soak the roots for an hour or so upon receipt. Then heel it in and water well. It should be fine next weekend or the weekend after that. Misterbaby.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 7:21PM
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alan haigh

Yeah, well I've often received trees already breaking out with lots of green buds- especially when I order from the west. Such trees have usually done just fine.

I've left trees for up to 3 weeks in their boxes in the shade in a cool spot without any harm coming to them. They usually sit for a week or 2 before I either heal them in or plant in the nursery.

These are properly packaged trees, in a box with the trees wrapped in plastic and some moist material like wetted spagnum thrown in.

Bare roots are much tougher than most assume and the roots that survive transplanting don't dry out easily- they have a water resistant sheath.

I'd love to see some research comparing coddled to somewhat neglected bare root trees. My volumes of anecdotal observation make me very skeptical of the high water needs of bare root plants. I don't ever water them in either- just make sure the soil is nicely moist ahead of time and firmly tamp them in- I love air pockets!

I think the key advantage to planting promptly is that the sooner they start sending out roots in their new soil the better they will plug in the first season, which is highly important, especially with our relatively short season in the northeast.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 8:15AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

What I can say you should not do is just leave partly-leafed-out trees from the west coast sit in your garage for a few weeks. Been there, killed that. If the trees are fully dormant now I tend to agree with hman that they are hard to mess up. I do think it is good to re-moisten the roots if its going to be several days before you plant. Big problems start coming in when the main roots get too dry and die. If the trees are not completely dormant I would pot them up immediately if you cannot plant them immediately.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 9:47AM
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alan haigh

I agree Scott, I certainly wasn't suggesting leaving plants in the box after leaf out, although they can survive a few days of that as well. The garage would be worse than having them in the shade with a tarp thrown over them (forgot to mention that I did that). Garages tend to be dehydrating.

Once a plant leafs out it is also sending out new root. This is all growth based on stored energy so you have one shot at getting that energy put to good use. When I heal in plants and let them leaf out before putting them in their more permanent location I lose most of the first years growth although the plants usually survive.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 11:28AM
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Bart1 is asking a good question an I hope that I dont hijack this thread, but if storing them is the problem why couldnt you just plant them in a pot with good potting soil until you have the time to plant?

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 11:44AM
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I am in your East Zone. Here is the advice I get from West Coast nurseries if you can not plant their trees right away. Plant in a container and let it root out and then treat as a potted plant. Plant when the time is right for you. I potted a bare root apple tree over the winter and set it outside in the already dug hole. The soil had already frozen for the winter, so instead of covering the pot in the ground with soil, I put several bags of mulch around the pot. I removed the tree last week and set it in the ground before new growth started. The thumb nail scratch indicated it was still living.

In short, pot your tree and let it grow. If yours has leafed out, then the new roots will grow in the pot and therefore, you must treat it as a potted tree. Potted trees can be set out anytime of the year as long as you can work the soil. I have planted them in every month of the year, it is a little more of a challenge in some months than others.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 4:30PM
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alan haigh

I'm a nurseryman and I disagree with the idea of potting a tree you don't have time to plant. It is much better to get the tree growing in real soil than putting it in the soil after establishing it in potting soil- unless you let the roots grow into the soil from the pot and bare root that part of the tree the next year.

In the end, how is it much quicker to put a tree in a pot then in the ground? Transplanting a 2-year soil grown tree works better than moving a tree from a pot to soil. Potting soil is much coarser than real soil and roots are often sluggish in moving into the real stuff when established in the former.

I grow potted bearing age fruit trees for a business and learned that by mulching and setting the pots in soil I can let roots establish outside of pots (all are at least 15 gal.) and carefully dig up those roots when transplanting- which I do in the fall.

For a whip that you plan to plant elsewhere the following year, you might as well just stick in the soil. I don't even put trees into pots until I've sized them up for a couple of years. I sell them the year after putting them in pots.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 8:37PM
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alan haigh

I should also have mentioned that of all common fruit species I grow, peaches grow most poorly in pots IME, as they function with a very large root system that a reasonably sized pot can't contain.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 7:27AM
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Here in California it is just about impossible to find bare root trees in the nurseries anymore. When the retail nursery gets the trees from the grower they immediately pot them up in five gallon pots. If you buy them that day or in the next few months you get,(for an extra $20)a tree that the soil all falls off when you prepare to plant it. When you question the nursery they tell you they do not have the facility to keep bare root trees dormant long enough to sell them. They used to heel them in sand in the shade which always worked well for me. Al

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 9:15AM
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alan haigh

Yeah, 40 years ago I used to by my fruit trees from, I think it was Treeland, which was a huge nursery in the SF Valley that sold fruit trees bare root like this. When they put them in 5 gallon pots they've pretty much annhialated the root system so you'd be better off ordering your trees from Trees of Antiquity or another CA based supplier of BR stock.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 12:21PM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

What I do with my bare roots, if I don't have time to plant them, is to heel them in with some damp peat moss or compost.

It's really cold here and if I get trees that are already waking up, they go into 15 gallon pots and they go into the garage until the weather warms up. Big pain to wheel them out for sunshine when it is above freezing during the day, and back inside in the evening.

If they are from a warmer climate and already waking up when it is still 4 degrees here, they will die if I put them outside. So there isn't much choice about potting them and moving them in and out.

If they arrive still fully dormant, I plant them out in their permanent spot and they have always done fine for me.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 6:58PM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

Thanks for all the great info folks! I'm printing this out and it will be yet another "article" for my ever growing fruit tree library.

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 8:25AM
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We sent some BR trees (1 damson, 1 plum and 1 apple) from the UK to a customer in Spain in November. The courier lost them, but recently found them in a warehouse and sent them back to us - 2 months after despatch! We have decided to plant them just to see if they will survive.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 5:03AM
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alan haigh

I bet in Europe where energy is not squandered by US standards the warehouse was quite cool so I put my money on your trees (especially the apple) if you did a thorough packing job.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 5:36AM
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