s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

Planting bare-root stock comes with some serious advantages, not the least of which is that bare-root plants generally cost from two-thirds to half as much as plants sold in a tub or can with a soil-packed root ball. And they’re not nearly as heavy to lug around.

But don’t dawdle. Bare-root season is finishing up this month, so if you’re thinking about planting trees, shrubs, or vines, now is the time to buy. Call ahead to your favorite nursery to see if they sell bare-root plants, and ask when they think they’ll be out of bare-root stock for this season.

Almost any type of plant with a strong root system can be sold with bare roots, which simply means that after they fell dormant last fall, they were dug up by the supplier, the soil washed off, and were placed in cold storage so they wouldn’t break dormancy. They would, however, have had their roots kept moist because — and this is true for you the homeowner as well as the nursery person — roots that dry out are roots that die out.

Before you go to pick up your stock at the nursery, or before they arrive if they’re being shipped, take a few shovels of the soil in which you’ll be planting them and mix it in a bucket of water to make a thin slurry. You want the plants to get to know that soil, unimproved with compost or fertilizers of any kind, because that native soil is going to be their new home and they need to get used to it.

When you get your bare-root plants home, or if they’re shipped to you, open the wrapping around the roots immediately. You may find that moist excelsior has been stuffed around the roots, after which they’re wrapped in stiff paper. Remove all that and grab your pruning shears. Cut off any broken roots and cut back any that are extra-long. Snip back the tips of about half the remaining roots, just by an inch or less. This signals the plant to make rooting hormone. Then set the plant in the bucket of soil and water slurry so the roots are covered.

If you can’t plant the bare-root stock right away, you should heel it in. Just dig away enough loose soil in your garden so you can set the roots in it, then cover them over with soil and water them. This is just a temporary home until you are ready to plant them in their chosen spot. The sooner the better.

If you dig a planting hole and fill it with rich soil mixed with compost or other actively decaying organic matter, or dig in chemical fertilizers like Miracle Gro, you may figure you’re giving the plant a good start — but you’re not. If the plant could talk, here’s what it would say to itself, “Oh boy, I sure like this rich soil in the planting hole, but when I reach the regular soil outside of it, it’s pretty poor by comparison. I think I’ll keep my roots in the planting hole.” And so its roots will just circle around and eventually the plant can become rootbound in place.

But if you soak your bare-root stock in the bucket of water for a few hours or overnight, then plant it in a generous hole — the bigger the better — in your native soil, it will have to struggle and search for nutrients and water, sending out feeder roots and water-seeking deeper roots much farther, giving you’re a larger, healthier, and sturdier root system and consequently, a better plant.

If you absolutely must fertilize your new plants, wait until the second year, and then top dress the soil with some compost, but don’t dig it into the soil. In nature, the year’s yearly fertilizer comes in the form of dead annual weeds, the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs, and occasional droppings from robins who’ve come to Sonoma County to avoid the really cold weather (robins are smart). And this yearly feeding stays on the soil surface, slowly decaying and releasing its nutrients that winter’s rains carry down to the roots. Follow nature. Keep the compost on the soil surface.

The advice to plant in native soil applies to nutrients, but not necessarily to texture. If your native soil is dense, sticky adobe clay, you can make it easier for the plant’s new young roots by adding some non-nutritive sand or vermiculite to the soil. After a year or two, when the roots reach the native heavy clay, they’ll be bigger and strong enough to penetrate the heavy soil.

Don’t worry about rocks or stones in the soil. They’re there to make your life miserable when digging holes, but the plants don’t mind them. The plants just grow roots around them, and soil bacteria, fungi, and other critters release mildly acidic body fluids when they die. The gentle acid dissolves some minerals from the rocks that plant roots will absorb and send upstairs for the tissue builders to use to make leaves, stems, shoots, wood, flowers, and fruits.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based garden and food writer who can be reached at jeffcox@sonic.net.

Show Comment