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How Long To Soak Bare Root Trees Before Planting?

To prepare bare-root trees for planting, you need to soak them in water to activate the roots and reduce transplant shock. But for how long? We researched this question to find the best answers for you.

To ensure a successful rooting of the bare root tree, the recommendation is to soak the roots in water for at least 1 to 2 hours before planting.

You can leave it soaking for longer but not beyond 24 hours. Soaking allows the roots to rehydrate but doing it longer than 24 hours can deprive them of oxygen or cause rotting.

If you're not going to plant it immediately, you can use the heel-in technique to store bare root trees properly.

Now that you know how long to soak them, you must learn proper planting techniques to ensure your plant will grow successfully. Read on below!

How Long To Soak Roots Before Planting

Bare root rose plants, shrub roses bare rooted for planting a rose hedge

Special care must be given to bare root trees when your order arrives. This is to ensure the bare roots will not dry out and to help them recover from the stress under transit.

Plant the trees as soon as you receive them. To prepare the roots, here's what to do:

  1. Remove the wrapping on the roots
  2. Fan out the roots to allow them to breathe
  3. Inspect the roots, trunk, and grafts to check for damage
  4. Get a pail of tap water and submerge the roots in it

How Long Can You Soak Bare Roots?

Ideally, bare root trees must be left soaking for a minimum of 1 to 2 hours before planting. This gives the roots enough time to rehydrate and restore their vigor.

You have a window of up to 24 hours to leave it soaking; then, it should immediately be planted. Don't let it sit in the water for an extended period.

The longer you soak, the chances of the roots rotting or getting damaged increase.

See this bare-root black mulberry on Amazon.

Should Roots Sit In Water?

Planting a grafted fruit tree with a good root system. A close-up of a young tree with bare roots in a planting hole., How Long To Soak Bare Root Trees Before Planting?

When you search for information online on how long to soak bare-root trees before planting, you may see different time suggestions across various sources. Some will suggest 3 to 6 hours, while others state 60 minutes.

How do you know which one to follow?

According to most resources, following the 1-2 hours minimum and 24 hours maximum soak time is the safest.

A Michigan State University news article suggests soaking for 24 hours to hydrate the plant to double its weight. According to European growers, their method involves soaking the bare root trees in creeks for good hydration.

This gives the trees a 30-day growing headstart compared to trees planted traditionally. Plants will require less water in their first few weeks after planting than they did growing in the nursery.

The University of Massachusetts suggests dipping the tree roots in hydrogel first before storing them if you're not going to plant them immediately. Otherwise, soak it in water for 12 to 24 hours before planting.

How Long Can You Store Bare Root Trees?

Fruit tree seedlings with roots at the farmers' market.

Sometimes, your bare roots arrive on a busy day, and you're not always ready to soak and plant them immediately a few hours after it arrives. A lot of soil preparation needs to be done before planting happens.

So what do you do with the bare root tree? How can you store it, and for how long?

Your bare root trees can survive in their original packaging for 2-3 weeks. However, you must ensure it is always moist but not soaking to avoid rotting.

Store the tree so that air can circulate freely around it and water can drain away from the roots.

It should also be stored in a cool, dark area like a garage, basement, or shed. If the weather is too warm or wet, the roots will rot. If you plan to store it longer than 2-3 weeks, you should heel it.

To do this, here are the steps:

  1. Remove the wrapping on the roots.
  2. Choose a cool and shady location in your backyard and dig a trench about 1 to 2 feet deep.
  3. Place the roots inside the trench while the body leans on the soil, all bundled as close as possible.
  4. Cover the roots loosely with soil, wood shavings, and compost.
  5. Water the roots until it is moist but not soaking wet.

If you don't have a shady area or the ground is too cold and frozen, you can do this inside a cellar or the garage. Use a big container like a tub or a wheelbarrow to place the roots, then cover it with soil.

See this heavy-duty wheelbarrow from Amazon.

Heeling-in aims to keep the roots moist, keep them from freezing and prevent them from breaking dormancy until it's time for you to plant it.

What happens if it breaks dormancy? You will often know this happens if it suddenly grows leaves or flowers. Once it does become active, you will need to plant it immediately.

How Long Before Bare Root Trees Grow Leaves?

Close up of New Leaf Growth on Bare Root Raspberry Plant

Be patient because it can take up to 6 weeks to see any baby leaves sprout from the stems of your bare root tree.

If it's taking too long to grow and it's way past six weeks, check these factors:

  • Lack of moisture
  • The sun is too harsh
  • Wrong plant depth
  • Improper storage before planting

There is also the slight possibility that the plant was damaged from the beginning or already has issues such as a fungus or root rot.

You might start to wonder whether the tree is still alive. To check, get a sharp knife or blade and scrape one of the twigs or branches to see if it's still green inside.

If it is, it may take your plant a while to grow due to environmental factors.

Planting Bare Root Trees In Pots

One Blueberry plant potted up.

Can you possibly plant a bare-root tree in a pot? Yes, you can, and it's just like planting them in the ground.

This is one of the best options for those without a large backyard or garden but has a wide and open patio where they can place big pots.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Unwrap the bare root tree
  2. Prepare the large pot (it should be big enough to grow in for at least two years)
  3. Check that the pot has good drainage
  4. Line the bottom of the pot with crock
  5. Fill the pot halfway with soil with a little bit of compost
  6. Place the bare root tree in the center and spread the roots around
  7. Add in the remaining ground until the roots are covered
  8. Add a stake to support the plant
  9. Water generously

Do not use potting soil or add any fertilizer or chemicals. This will surely hurt your plant. Use plain ground soil only. You may also need to add mulch to the soil to ensure it will seal the moisture and keep the roots healthy.

Also, be ready to change into a bigger pot once the plant starts to grow. Water it regularly and keep the soil moist to promote healthy growth.

When Can I Plant Bare Root Trees?

Placing the fruit tree with spread roots in the center of a planting hole.

Bare root trees are best planted when they are dormant. This means before you see buds and leaves forming. This allows them to form stronger roots.

Early spring and late fall are ideal, but the time frame depends on where you are.

Suppose you live in warmer regions and plant in late fall. In colder areas, you can plant at any time as long as the soil isn't frozen or about to freeze.

Planting at the right time is also a huge factor in the success of the plant's growth. Depending on your tree type, it's essential to study its growing and temperature requirements before planting it.

To Wrap Up

When your bare root tree arrives in the mail, you need to hydrate it immediately by soaking it in water for 1-2 hours or longer but not beyond 24 hours.

Afterwhich, you will need to plant it immediately to prevent root rot and oxygen deprivation.

Made it to the end? Check out these helpful related posts!

How To Tell If My Bare Root Strawberries Are Dead

Are Bare Root Roses Grafted?

How Long Can Bare Root Plants Be Stored Before Planting?