Planting Your Bare Root Fruit Tree

February 4, 2020

Tips and guidelines on how to plant bare root fruit trees.

Tree Planting

There are a few guidelines to always follow when planting a bare root fruit tree.
– Dig a hole about twice as wide as the root system requires. This will loosen the surrounding soil making it easier for roots to develop an outward growing pattern during the first year.
– The hole should be just deep enough to place the roots in while keeping the graft union above the soil level. If you make the hole too deep the tree will settle possibly putting the graft union below the soil line over time.
– Do not replace the soil taken from the hole with another topsoil, sphagnum moss, or manure. If your soil lacks phosphorus it is ok to mix 1-2 lbs per tree of triple super phosphate. If your soil lacks potassium apply 1-2 lbs of muriate of potash per tree in the soil in the bottom of the hole.
– When placing the tree in the hole spread the roots out in all directions. If you make a pyramid of soil in the bottom of the hole it will help keep the roots spread while you backfill and plant the tree.


Don’t put any nitrogen fertilizer in the planting hole. And during the first year allow the tree to grow for several months before applying nitrogen fertilizer on the surface of the soil. This will keep you from burning the young tender roots. Eventually applying three-quarters of a cup of urea (46-0-0), or one and three-quarters of a cup of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) to each tree will be fine. Adding 5-10 lbs of aged manure or compost per tree is also recommended. Fresh manure will burn roots of your new tree. Generally spreading fertilizer at the drip line of the tree is a good practice. And, remember to water in the fertilizer.


During the first year in the ground, your fruit tree should be monitored for insect pests that attack the tree. Watch for borers working near the graft union, or insects that reduce leaf area in the canopy. Keeping weeds away from your new trees will also reduce competition for water and nutrients and eliminate cover for voles. Trapping may be necessary if your orchard attracts gophers and ground squirrels. Moles may leave a number of mounds in your orchard but they are not eating the roots. Moles are eating worms, grubs, and other soil-dwelling insects.
Plant diseases can be a problem for young trees in Western Oregon. Apply fungicides to keep fungal problems like apple scab, anthracnose, and peach leaf curl to a minimum. Dormant and growing season sprays with copper sulfate will also help to fight bacterial blight (Pseudomonas) a difficult disease for cherries, and peaches in Western Oregon.

Size of the Planting Hole
Things change. Advice for planting bare root trees has changed too! Colorado State University studied root growth in fruit trees. They have a planting technique that expands root growth exponentially (see the bottom of the document for bare root trees).

No more deep holes here, the new method calls for a shallow, saucer-shaped hole that is three times as wide as the tree roots and deep enough to allow planting at the same depth the tree was in the field.

Positioning the Tree in the Hole
The position will depend on whether or not it is a single or multi-graft tree. If you are putting in a multi-graft tree, position the smallest graft or scion, to the south facing position. This will assure that the largest scion does not take over the tree. For a single graft tree, be sure and point the graft towards the north or the northeast to prevent sun damage.

Mulching Newly Planted Trees
Colorado State warns against mulching around the base of the new tree: With newly planted trees, do NOT place mulch directly over the root ball. Rather, mulch the backfill area and beyond. Never place mulch up against the trunk as this may lead to bark decay. Over the backfill area and beyond, 3-4 inches of wood chip mulch gives better weed control and prevents additional soil compaction from foot traffic.

Bare Root Tree Season is December – February
So what if you can’t plant your trees as soon as you receive them? That’s ok, you can heel them in and plant them when the time is right.
To heel in your trees, choose a shady location and dig a trench about a foot deep. If your ground is frozen you can heel in either in the cellar or in the garage. Place the trees in the trench bundled as closely together as possible leaning against the slope. Cover the roots with loose soil compost or wood shavings, but avoid using rice hulls cedar or redwood shavings, and it’s important not to let your tree’s roots dry out or freeze.
You want to keep the roots moist but not soaking wet. The point of heeling in is to keep the roots moist, protect the tree from freezing and keep it cool enough that it doesn’t break dormancy.
If your ground is frozen or if you’re under snow you can create this same environment in a wheelbarrow or some other type of container and store it in your basement, garage or cellar. If you see the buds swell and then the tree starts to flower, it has broken dormancy and it needs to be planted immediately.
Whether you want to try the new-fangled planting method from Colorado State, or go with the traditional way, be sure to take advantage of one of the great bargains in food production- bare root fruit trees.

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