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How to store bare root plants

How to store bare root plants if you are not ready to plant immediately

It is important that bare root hedging plants and tree saplings are planted quickly (within a week but the sooner the better) but if that is not going to happen either because of soil conditions being too poor (waterlogged soils or frozen ground or bitterly cold winds) or you know that you are not going to be in a position to plant all the plants within a few days, you can store some or all of them and this describes the two methods...

Heeling in bare root plants

This is a bit of effort but is advisable where storage is needed for a week or more.   It’s very easy – our step by step guide is

1. Stand the plants in a bucket or water trough or run a water hose over them for 10 minutes so that they are properly drenched

2. Dig a V shaped trench about 30cm deep.

3. Lean the plants (still in their tied bundles) into the trench at an angle (so that they don’t root properly) with the roots  entirely enclosed within the trench.  It is really important to make sure that no roots are exposed to the cold air.

4. Backfill the trench with soil or compost or sand and then firm in with your heel (hence why it is called “heeling in”).  If it is practical to do so, water in the plants after heeling in to bring microscopic soil particles into contact with all of the roots.

5. When you are ready to plant out permanently, lift the plants carefully (take hold of them as low down as possible and waggle them about gently until they come loose) and put them back into the bags they were supplied in or other suitable bags to keep the wind off them until you plant them individually.

Storing bare root plants in a shed

If you expect to be able to plant within a week, you can put the plants back into the bag supplied (after standing them in water for 10 minutes to allow the roots to take up moisture) and tie the bags tightly to prevent the roots from drying out. Store them in a cool shed or outbuilding (not a greenhouse) away from cold winds.  However, the quicker you plant the better – every day counts with bare root plants so do try to plant into the permanent position or heel them in, in preference to storing in a shed.

It is more important to plant quickly towards the end of the season (late March/April/sometimes into May) because warm weather will hasten budding and leaf break and plants really do need to be in their permanent planted out position when that happens or will suffer stress.   Also, generally plants will be coming out of cold storage at that time of year, and the sudden change to spring weather will be a catalyst for leaf break.  We have a blog on the factors applicable to planting at different times of the year and cold storage.