Planting bare-rooted fruit trees

Pop the kettle on and soak up a 5-minute growing tip from Nadja’s Garden. 


Deciduous fruit trees are those that drop their leaves and go into dormancy for winter. Most come from cool or temperate regions of the northern hemisphere and dormancy saves their energy for the times of year when they are free of snow and have enough sunlight to photosynthesise. This makes winter the best time for planting and transplanting most deciduous trees, because (a) there’s less tree to move and (b) it doesn’t disturb their active growth phase.

Bare rooted‘ means that you get the tree without a big pot of soil – usually the roots are trimmed and packed in sawdust in a plastic bag. They can remain this way for months, but the sooner you get them into the ground, the sooner those roots can get growing, ready to support and sustain the tree through our sizzling summers. You need strong roots and a strong framework to hold a good crop of fruit. And you want to get it planted before it starts flowering and growing leaves.

But before you bung your new investment into the ground, here’s a few things to check…

  1. How’s the soil? You want it to have abundant organic matter (if it’s dark and wormy you’re on the right track), absorb and hold moisture readily, but drain well enough that the tree won’t be sitting in a puddle.
  2. If it’s really sandy and loose, see how to improve it here. If it’s heavy, sticky clay, you’ll want to aerate it by loosening it with a fork, and add gypsum at up to 1kg per square metre to help improve its drainage – and mound it up a bit rather than planting in a deep hole.
  3. If it’s pale and lifeless, add well-rotted compost and manures – at least a couple of buckets full.
  4. Dig the hole to the depth of the root mass and at least twice as wide. Don’t make it a perfect, smooth-sided, pot-shaped hole – make it rough and loosen the soil around it, so the roots will be enticed to go exploring beyond the hole.
  5. Use sharp, clean secateurs to trim off any damaged roots.
  6. Shape a little dome in the base of the hole and spread the roots over it to get them heading outwards and supporting the tree in all directions.
  7. If you think the tree needs a stake or two for support, slip them into the hole before you backfill, so you won’t snap roots by doing it later. And tie the tree loosely to the stakes so it won’t get strangled and it will have a bit of wriggle room to develop its own strength.
  8. Backfill in layers, watering the soil in to remove air pockets as you go. Check the tree’s posture at each stage, and adjust as needed to make sure it’s upright. If it’s a grafted tree (as most nursery trees are), keep the graft (lumpy bit low on the trunk) well above the final soil level, with all the roots well covered.
  9. Firm the soil down gently – enough to support the tree well, without compacting too heavily around the roots – they need to breathe.
  10. Give the tree its formative pruning – this is to set it up in a strong basic shape, and you’ll continue the process over a couple of years before it carries fruit.


For personalised help with planting and caring for your fruit trees, contact Nadja.

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