How to heel in bareroot plants

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Bareroot roses, small trees and shrubs are often available at nurseries and from mail order catalogs in late winter. Bareroot plants are simply dormant woody plants that have had most of the soil around their roots removed (hence the name bareroot). They are typically sold for significantly lower prices than similar container-grown plants because the bareroot versions cost significantly less to ship. Bareroot plants do best if they are planted as soon as possible after purchase, but if you don't have time to plant them immediately, you can store the plants by temporarily placing them in a soil-filled trench-a process called "heeling in." Here is how.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • A shovel
  • 5-gallon bucket

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Bareroot plants typically come with their roots packaged in a plastic or cardboard container filled with damp wood shavings. You can keep them in their packages for up to 7 days if you place them in a cool, shady, frost-free place like an unheated garage. Before you store the plants, open up their packages and make sure that the roots and packing material are moist (you want the packing material to feel like a wrung-out sponge). Check the moisture level of the packaging material every two days.

  2. 2

    If you don't have an ideal place to store the plants in their packages or if you must wait for longer than 7 days to plant, then it is a good idea to heel your plants in. Start by digging a V-shaped trench that is wide and deep enough to hold the plants' roots.

  3. 3

    Remove the plants from their packaging and lay them at an angle in the trench so that the roots are at the bottom and the trunk or base of the plant is resting up the side of the trench. Leave about 1 foot of space between each plant.

  4. 4

    Backfill the trench with soil to cover up the roots (do not cover the stem, trunk or crown of the plants with soil, as this can cause rotting) and then water the plants in. You can leave the plants heeled in for several months, but it's best to plant them in their permanent location within a few weeks because you don't want them to break dormancy (begin growing new leaves) prior to planting.

  5. 5

    When you are ready to plant, gently remove the soil from the trench. I recommend using your hands or a trowel to avoid jabbing the roots with a shovel. Then, fill a 5-gallon bucket with water and place the plant's roots in the bucket. Let them soak for 5 to 10 minutes. After you've hydrated the roots, you can go ahead and plant the bareroot plant in the garden following the directions that came with the plant's package.

Tips and warnings

  • Don't let the plant's roots soak in water for more than 10 minutes, because that can deny them essential oxygen.
  • Be sure to save the plant's packaging, as it typically has detailed instructions on how to plant the bareroot plant.

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