How to Plant Bare Roots

Many people are unfamiliar with planting bare roots so here’s a quick guide.

  • Yes, plant them as soon as possible. This will ensure that the root doesn’t get too dry, or moldy, and allow the plant so start settling in asap.
  • No, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get them in this weekend. A few days or even a couple weeks will be ok if they are kept in a cool/cold (not freezing), dark, dry place with their bags cracked open. As long as the ground itself isn’t frozen yet, you can still plant them.
  • When you’re ready to plant, feel free to rinse the dirt off the roots first. This is becoming best practice when dealing with established plants that aren’t seed grown from a nursery, in order to prevent the spread of invasive jumping worms.
  • Determine up from down on the root. This is easy with some, harder with others, and many have a horizontal orientation. As a rule, if a root is longer than a few inches then it should be planted horizontally. Dig a space out that will put any sprouts at surface level, or immediately below it if no sprouts are showing— no more than 1/4 inch. Some bulbs, like trout lily, will be showing next spring’s leaves as a larger point sticking up. Only leave the very tip of it showing through the soil, and maybe put fine mulch or crushed tree leaves over the tip.
  • If there are new leaf sprouts emerging, leave those above ground but cover them loosely (with fine mulch or crushed leaves). It is likely the plant will lose these leaves to the winter freezes. This is not a cause for concern and can happen int the wild if plants put up eaves a little early, or if theres a ate cold snap.
  • DO NOT plant your roots too deep; in most cases the upper point should be at ground level.
  • Most of these plants are woodland plants and prefer rich organic soil. If your soil is extremely clay-ey, it's best to amend it with some combination of the original soil, and/or bagged soil, fine mulch, crushed leaves, a handful of play sand, and compost. If this is done, you shouldn’t need any fertilizer. 
  • PLEASE NOTE: Planting guides say most of these species take part to full shade. They’re woodland shade plants, so that make sense, right? Well, yes and no. We made the mistake of planting some of ours in the permanent shade of the north side of our house and the north side of a large tree. Spring ephemerals need that full bright spring sun to wake them up, for at least a few hours each afternoon. Most do need some shade as the weather warms up, so plant under deciduous trees/shrubs so they get summer shade. Just be mindful to plant away from year-round full shade on the north side of buildings or large tree trunks; iPhones have a built-in compass in utilities, Android has compass apps/Google maps available to help you.
  • All new transplants need watered in on the initial planting. Normally bare root plantings don’t need any extra attention in that regard- it’s one of the perks of planting dormant bare roots. However, this fall and winter is supposed to be pretty dry. Keep an eye on the amount of rain we get; if there has been little to no rain, it would be best to give them a sprinkle every 10 days or so.

Feel free to contact us with questions that may come up as you work on your plantings! As always, thank you for your support and for planting native!