Unboxing & Planting Guide
What to do when your order arrives
When your mail order plants arrive, the roots of the "bare root" plants will be surrounded by recycled shredded paper and then wrapped in a plastic bag to retain moisture. When your order arrives, first carefully remove the plants from the outer cardboard box. Check the tag on each plant to make sure that what you have received is what we confirmed on the enclosed packing slip. Small seedlings or berries may be bundled at the base of your larger trees within the plastic bag. We have flagged them to make them easier to spot. Several plants may be packed together in one package to save moisture and reduce shipping costs, so if you don’t see all the tags, open each plastic bag to be certain that the apparent single plant is not in fact several smaller plants. Please notify us immediately of any errors or any broken trees. Most plants can be planted upon arrival as long as your ground isn’t frozen and the temperature while you are actually planting is above freezing. It won’t hurt most of the bare root plants even if the temperature goes below freezing after the tree or shrub is planted. Dormant cold hardy potted plants can be unpotted and planted directly into the ground. If you are ready to plant, you can skip the next section.
Note: Don’t throw away the box or packing material that came with your order, it is meant to be used as mulch around your newly planted trees! The shredded paper and cardboard can be spread around the base of the tree to prevent grass and other plants from growing too close and provide shade to aid in water retention around the roots.
Not ready to plant yet?
If you are not ready to plant, don’t worry - you have several options! The best option, if the temperature is above freezing, is to "heel" them in. Dig a hole in a shady spot big enough to accommodate the roots of the entire bundle of bare root plants, then mound up soil or sawdust to completely cover the roots. The roots need to be kept moist but not waterlogged. They can go into a hole in the ground or into a container with sawdust or similar material. Before heeling in, remove the plastic bag and shredded paper that surrounds the roots. You can briefly keep your leafless bare root plants in the plastic bags they came in, in a cool place where plants will not freeze or dry out; for example, in a garage (ideally 35-45°F). DO NOT store your dormant bare root plants in a warm place, for instance, in your house, for more than a few days if they are going to be planted in cold conditions. Plants kept under warm conditions for an extended period lose hardiness and may then be damaged by even mild frost. If you can’t heel the bare root plants in, open the bag containing the roots and spray the roots as needed with water to keep them moist but not soggy. Keep in a shaded place and try not to leave puddle of water in the plastic bag. You can poke small holes in the bottom to allow drainage. Close the top of the bag to retain the moisture and check periodically to be sure the roots are not sitting in water or have become dry. Remember that the sooner your plants are in their permanent location, the better chance they have of thriving!
Digging the hole
Begin by digging a hole that is at least twice as wide and the same depth as the roots. A deep crater is not good because as the disturbed soil settles, the plant will sink. The soil should be moist. However, if it’s very wet, wait until the soil will break apart when you squeeze a clump (which is not always possible in the Pacific Northwest. We have had success planting in wet soil). In order to make a gradual transition from natural soil to the amended soil, use a shovel — or better still a spading fork — to fracture and crack the walls and the bottom of the hole. This will make it easier for new roots to penetrate unhampered into the native soil. You can amend your back-fill soil by adding up to 20%, about two shovels full, of finished compost, leaf mold or peat moss. Avoid potting mixes, manure or other fertilizers in the planting hole. You may add lime or sulfur to adjust the pH if your soil test shows it is needed. There is some debate about how deep to plant your trees. We plant trees at the depth they were planted in the nursery or at most two or three inches deeper. If yours is a grafted or budded tree, make sure the graft union remains at least two inches above the ground. Should the graft union become buried, roots could form above the graft, negating any dwarfing qualities of the rootstock.
Planting the tree
Remove any shredded paper that came packed around the tree roots. Don’t put it in the hole! It can become part of the above ground mulch. Trim broken roots and branches. While you are digging the hole it is very helpful, though not necessary, to soak the roots in a bucket of water. The plant roots can soak up to a day, but 6 to 8 hours is optimal - even an hour will suffice if you are pressed for time. Peach trees seem to especially benefit from this soaking. If it’s a sunny day, keep your tree roots covered and pull your trees out one by one so the roots don’t dry. Make a little mound in the bottom of the hole and spread the roots so they are facing outward and slightly downward. Place Mycopaks in contact with the roots in the planting hole. Use one Mycopak for every foot of tree height. Shovel the soil back into the hole and gently tamp the soil down after every few shovels-full to make sure there are no air pockets around the roots. If you are planting in clay soil, don’t tamp. Instead, backfill half the hole, flood the hole with water, jiggle the tree gently to work the air bubbles out, finish filling, and flood and jiggle again. Then, use a digging fork to loosen the soil next to the planting hole, 1-3 feet out from the trunk. Mulch the whole area with straw, wood chips, or shredded bark. Water your tree deeply when planting is completed.
A general rule of thumb for plants in the ground is to ensure they receive an inch of water per week over the root zone. The typical three-foot diameter planting hole would need 10 gallons of water per week provided by rainfall or by the gardener. Apply this water once a week, two times per week if soil is fast draining, or temperatures are above 80 degrees. DO NOT water lightly each day because this results in a wet surface and dry root zone area. The soil should be moist but not soggy to a depth of about a foot for most growing plants. The top inch or two can feel dry, and the plant still be well watered. The trick is to have the water available where the roots are. In hotter and sunnier areas, a mulch of straw, bark, wood chips. etc. can greatly ease the burden of summer watering and improve soil fertility.
For plants in containers, water until the soil is saturated and water comes out of the drainage holes. Let the container dry until the soil is dry to the touch 1-2 inches down and the container is lighter in weight. A plant that has wilted can be receiving either too much or too little water. In rainy areas like the Pacific Northwest, most of the plants that we offer will need relatively little supplemental irrigation once they are established in the ground and have had a chance to develop a good root system. However, even here in the Pacific Northwest, it is important to make sure plants have regular, deep watering during the first two growing seasons; the first two summers are especially critical. In drier areas, permanent irrigation is required for success, and even established trees in wetter environments benefit from summertime irrigation.
Mulching & Weed Control
It is very important for the first three to five years that weeds not invade the root zone of your tree. The weeds take moisture and nutrients that your plant needs. One way to control weeds is by mulching. A mulch of leaves, newspaper, bark, wood chips, well-aged compost, or straw, renewed each spring from around the base of the tree to about a foot beyond the reach of the branches, will add to the fertility of the soil. We have found that a heavy mulch of oat straw over soil loosened in this manner will encourage worms and rapidly improve the soil’s tilth. Try to keep the mulch at least two inches from the trunk. If gophers or other root damaging rodents are a serious problem in your area, you can line the tree’s hole and the trunk of the tree itself with galvanized fencing or ‘hardware cloth’. If your trees are planted in or near a lawn, it is important that you NOT use ‘weed and feed’ products on the grass or you may kill or damage your tree. If you are using a soaker hose as a form of irrigation, it is very important to place the hose under your mulch layer. The important thing to remember is that you can’t plant trees directly in a hole in the lawn without mulching and watering, and expect your tree to grow well. Your tree roots feed and seek water near the surface and cannot compete with established grass. Your tree may struggle to survive and will often stay the same size year after year.
It’s important to balance the branches with the roots of your tree. This initial pruning is one of the most important parts of the future growth pattern of your fruit tree. It will dictate the overall shape your tree takes during its initial growth stage.
When planting your bareroot tree, you want the top branches to be similar in size and length to the root structure. This is called balancing your tree and should be done immediately after planting. It’s ok to be aggressive here! Most people make the mistake of not pruning their tree enough on initial planting.