January Tip: Dry-Root Planting


While the better part of the country is, or will be, digging out of from under blankets of show, Southern Californians, can anticipate Spring by using their shovels to dig holes and plant any number of available “bare-root” plants. These include: roses, cane berry bushes, deciduous fruit trees, ornamental deciduous tress and a variety of vines, such as wisteria and strawberries.

What Is Bare Root?

In case you’ve never heard of, or are unsure what the term “bare root” means, it describes plants that are sold with the soil removed from around their roots. This is possible because these plants go dormant in the winter and do not suffer having their roots exposed.

As Pat Welsh describes in her excellent book, Southern California Gardening – A Month by Month Guide, which provides much of this material, there are definite advantages to purchasing bare-root plants. Not only are they usually cheaper than containerized plants, but there is a much greater selection of plant material.

But you do need to be careful in your selection, as many species have specific “chilling requirements.” Therefore, if you want to go “bare-root” deal with a knowledgeable nursery or do some research before you go out shopping. What you want to look for are “low-chill varieties,” because there’s no point in buying a plant that requires either a certain low temperature or a pro-longed period of chill, which your planting zone does not provide.

Don’t Let Bare Roots Dry Out

It’s important when purchasing a dry-root plants to make sure their roots have not dried out. Therefore, it’s best to buy the plants early in the month and if their roots are wrapped by the shipper, leave them in their containers and keep them in a shady place until you plant them.

If the nursery displays the plants loose in a bin of shavings, select the ones that have strong root systems. If you intend to plant immediately, soak the roots in a pail of water for a couple of hours and then get them in the ground.

If you don’t plan to plant immediately, you should heel the plants in. To “heel in” means to dig a shallow trench in a shady spot, lay plants on their sides with their roots in the trench, cover the roots thoroughly with soil up to the soil line, and water well. They can survive for at least six weeks, although they may begin to grow if they remain in the ground for that length of time.


All the dry-root plants mentioned have specific planting requirements. If you wish to make use of this technique, I suggest you do a little research into their needs. As I mentioned, Pat Welsh‘s book is the bible when it comes to this, but there are any number of books that deal with dry-root planting as well as numerous resources on the Web.


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