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Care Guide: Bare Root Fruit Trees

Bare root trees are trees that have been field-grown before being dug up for sale and then planting. Their roots have usually been trimmed back quite hard; this is nothing to be concerned about as they will grow just fine after being planted. The roots of your fruit trees should be kept dry, until soaking and then planting. Learn more about fruit trees here.

Immediate Care After Delivery

If you cannot plant immediately, we recommend checking daily that the root bag is dry, while keeping the trees in a shady spot and out of direct sunlight or wind. Planting at this time of year gives the trees the cool, damp weather that they require to establish a root system before the hot summer weather where their energy will need to be put into foliage production and fruiting.

Planting Your Bare Root Tree

Before planting, soak the roots for 24-48 hours in a bucket of water, this will be very beneficial to your new trees. If you haven’t planted a tree before, you may find it easier to work with a partner the first time. The day you plant the trees, keep the roots in a bucket of water until placing them in the planting hole.

Planting in the ground

We suggest a planting distance of around 2.4 metres (8 feet) or more apart for these trees. They can be planted closer together, but you would need to prune more regularly in this instance, so that they do not become too large once in active growth.

After deciding where to plant the tree, dig a large hole around 30 centimetres (12 inches) deep and 60 centimetres (24 inches) wide. Place the topsoil in two piles and any subsoil in a separate pile. Be careful to keep the sides straight so that the hole isn’t narrower at the bottom than at the top. Lightly fork the edges and bottom of the hole to let the roots grow out more easily. This also provides air holes.

All our fruit trees are grafted on a special root stock. It is important that the stock of the tree is not planted too deeply and covered up with soil as this will avoid the stock sending out shoots. It should be easy to see the graft mark, so when planting it is best to keep this above the soil. Place the tree in the hole to check it is deep enough that all the roots will be covered while the grafting point of the stock is still above the ground. Make the hole deeper as required.

Once the hole is finished, the stake is ready to go in; this is done before planting to avoid damaging the roots. The stake should be around 80 centimetres (32 inches) above the ground and vertical rather than angled when the tree is planted. Remove the tree from the hole to prevent damage when putting it in the stake. One person should hold the stake while someone else wields a suitable mallet or hammer to put the stake securely in the ground, ensuring that the stake is straight. Place the tree next to the stake with the stem being about 5-10 centimetres (2-4 inches) away.

Mix some good-quality compost (we suggest Compost King for this) with some of the topsoil you previously removed from the hole. We suggest a mix of 25-50% compost with your topsoil as this will aid in the establishment of your trees. Next, shovel some of this soil mix around the roots and once they have been fully covered, gently firm the soil to make sure that it is tucked in around those roots. Shovel the rest of the topsoil and firm it again, adding the subsoil at the top of the hole. Then firm again and water the tree; we suggest giving 1-2 buckets per tree straight after planting even if the soil is damp. Tree failures mainly occur due to lack of water or competition from weeds, so it is important to keep the tree well-watered each week with a heavy soaking on a regular basis – more so in hot, dry weather, so that it does not dry out. Keep the area free of weeds that will compete for the tree’s water and feed. Mulching can help with both moisture and keep the weeds at bay.

Attach some rubber ties to the stake and then around the stem of the tree. The ties can be held in place by fitting them tightly to the stake or fixing them to the stake with a nail. If rabbits are a problem in your area, you can wrap a spiral tree guard around the tree to prevent them from nibbling at its bark.

Planting in pots

We often get asked if a fruit tree can be planted in a container and the answer is yes. This follows very similar steps to planting in the ground. Make sure to soak the roots in a bucket of water before planting. It is important to find a large enough container for them to grow in, we recommend the Twist ‘N’ Lock Grow Pot. Place a layer of Compost King compost at the bottom of the container, high enough so that the rootstock will be above the container level. Once there is a deep enough layer of compost, place the tree into the container and fill the rest of the pot with more compost (this may require someone to help you keep the tree stable). After planting the tree, water considerably to settle the compost.  

Caring for bare root fruit trees

The tree will need large amounts of water frequently until it is established.

As the tree grows and the stem thickens, check the rubber tie to see if it needs adjusting, to ensure it is not too tight.

Also check the stake after stormy weather to make sure that it is still secure.

Use a special fruit tree fertiliser as directed by the manufacturer to get the most out of your trees.

If planting in large patio planters, follow the steps above. However, it is recommended that you use a high quality Tub and Basket compost and you will not need to dig any holes!

It is particularly important that patio trees never try out or get stressed. Plants should always be allowed to drain freely, but we do suggest using a saucer with your pots in the summer so that this can be kept full. This helps to combat the dryness that comes with the hot weather, thus preventing dehydration.

Feeding weekly with a good quality liquid plant feed is essential in the growing season as the roots cannot grow to find more nutrients so they must have everything they need inside their pots.

Top Tip

Dig a channel around the edge of the dug area to stop water running away from the root area.

Frequently Asked Questions

These Trees look dead, why have they taken a long time to deliver?

Once your order has been placed, the trees are carefully lifted from the fields when the conditions for lifting (and replanting in your garden) are just right. This is in the winter months and so we have to be careful that the ground isn’t too wet or too frosty as this would hinder the trees’ chances of survival. Therefore, on pre-orders we suggest that delivery in early March is normal, as a rough guide. Once the trees are safely gathered together in packs, they are put into cold storage to prevent them coming into growth before they reach you. We can assure you that the trees are not dead – they are simply in their dormant stage for the winter.

Why are the roots and packing material looking dry? Will the trees survive shipping?

Provided that you follow the instructions and soak the roots well before planting (usually for 24-48 hours) the trees will thrive nicely. We specifically keep the packing material and roots on the dry side so that the trees do not start to grow in transit. If it were kept damp once removed from our cold storage, they would want to start growing immediately and this would be detrimental to their overall chances of thriving. This is why bare root trees purchased elsewhere will often fail; they can become too warm, beginning their growth and then they can get dehydrated which will hinder their ability to grow once soaked and planted out.

When can I expect fruiting?

It is possible that you could see some flowers or fruits within the first year of planting, though our pruning would have removed many of the initial fruiting buds. We do recommend removing any fruits that form in the first season, so that the tree can concentrate on becoming fully established before putting its energy into fruiting. Next year, you should see more flowers and fruits forming. If you want the best, long term cropping then we would again suggest that you remove any fruits that form in the second year – it will encourage the tree to become further established and produce bigger and better crops in the long run. Fruit from year three onwards should be more bountiful after the first two years of removing fruits. Removal of fruit in the initial years of establishment is of course down to personal choice, but it is what commercial orchards do for the first few years when they plant new trees, as they crop better for longer in the future.

Do I need a pollinator for these trees?

A lot of the fruit tree bundles on our website contain only self-fertile trees, meaning that you do not need a pollinator partner to produce a crop of fruit. However, it is always best to check if the particular bundle or tree you have purchased is self-fertile. It is also good to note that even if they are self-fertile, having more trees can increase the chance of pollination and heavier crops. Without additional trees though, the bees should do the trick with pollination of self-fertile trees.

How far apart should my trees be planted?

The spacing of fruit trees is down to personal preference and it will depend entirely on what space you have available and how compact the trees will be kept via pruning. We would suggest that a good amount of space between each tree would be 300 centimetres – remember that they are going to be around for decades and so if allowed to reach their full potential, they will need a little space. It is perfectly fine to plant them closer together for smaller, more compact trees where you can keep on top of pruning. Don’t forget that they can also be grown in large patio tubs for several years.

My tree is not straight, can this be corrected?

Fruit trees will often have a curvature when young, this normally happens where they have been grafted and the stem grows upwards. Over time the tree will become much straighter, especially with staking. It is nothing to be worried about. If it is a big concern to you, plant the tree up to the graft mark to hide this, but be careful not to cover this, as the root stock these trees are on will keep them compact, if covered, the tree could form its own roots, and would grow very large.

My Trees have been planted for a few weeks, but I can’t see any visible growth yet?

This is nothing to worry about, it is most likely the trees are making fresh roots and simply taking their time before shooting. Because they are different varieties, you will also notice some shooting before others, they can start to grow at considerably different rates, and it should not be expected that a Pear tree will start to produce fresh shoots at the same time as a Plum tree for example.
If you want to check a tree is healthy, a good tip is to scrape back a little bark just above the graft, that should be green underneath, which means the tree is healthy and simply taking its time to shoot back, it is unlikely, but if it is dry and corky in appearance the tree has sadly failed.
Please be patient with new trees starting to shoot back, they may take a little time to show signs of growth and completing the bark test is important if you are in doubt.

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Download Care Guides

We have created two care guides to help you grow a happy and healthy plant. We have an In-depth Care Guide and a Simplified Care Guide.

Disclaimer: Although we do sell fruit trees/ edible plants which are typical consumable. We can not advise you to eat them due to various problems, such as contact with chemicals, animal-related diseases, allergy-related issues etc. Any consumption of these plants is solely down to your own judgement and we hold no responsibility for any negative outcomes.

Updated on September 27, 2023

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