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By March 18, 2014 Read More →

Heeling In: What To Do With Bare Root Trees

BareRootTreeIt’s that time of the year when a lot of gardeners are getting their hands dirty. On our homestead we are planting fruit trees. Actually, we just planted 12 new apple, 6 peach, and 4 apricot trees. All of them were purchased by us and their roots were bare.

At this time of the year most fruit trees are dormant so most nurseries can and will most often ship your trees without soil and with minimal root covering or protection. If this is your first time ordering trees and you open the box and discovered what I just mentioned, don’t be surprised or alarm. If you follow these solid tips, your trees will be okay and ready for planting ahead of Spring.

First, after receiving your tree(s) if you’re in a climate in which you can plant your trees do so. Bare-root trees should be planted as soon as you receive them, into well-prepared soil on a day when the air and soil temperatures are above freezing. Ideally, you’ll want to dig a hole for the trees before they arrives, prepare your holes in the manner in which you normally plant your trees. However, if you’re in a climate where you’re not able to do so due to in-climate weather i.e. snow, frost, or freezing temperatures you should hold off and “Heel-In” your tree(s).

Heeling-in is what this article is all about. If you must store the bare-root tree for more than a few hours, it’s important to protect the bare roots from drying out or freezing. At the same time, you’ll want to avoid placing the tree in a warm, sunny location where it’s biological clock may sound the alarm that spring is at hand. Heeling-in is the gardener’s best choice for storing bare-root trees.

Bare-root fruit trees are trees that have been lifted from the nursery when they are in their dormant stage. They are then quickly shipped to the customer. They are usually supplied with a protective wrapping around their roots, but unlike most container grown trees, the roots are basically “bare”. In order to ensure that your fruit tree doesn’t arrive dry, the time in which the tree is shipped from the tree nursery and planting by the recipient should be kept as short as possible to prevent the roots drying out. A well-packaged bare-root tree will easily survive for up to 10 days, or unprotected fruit tree with bare roots will survive for about 3-5 days.

Here is the process for Heeling-in a fruit tree:

If you have just one tree, dig a shallow hole. If you have several trees, then you should make a long shallow trench.  Lie the trees on the ground at a 90 degrees angle in the trench. Make sure that ALL of the tree roots are in the bottom of the trench.  Refill the trench, covering the roots with soil and firmly pres down carefully to remove air spaces. You may find that you need more soil than was in the trench, and you will probably end up with a mound of soil covering the roots. Only the roots should be covered. Apply 3 inches of mulch like sawdust, hay or dried leaves. If you leave the tree for more than several weeks, you need to irrigate the roots to keep them moist. You’ll want to put up some type of barrier so that you or someone else won’t accidentally walking over the trees. Plan to plant the tree as soon as time and weather permit.

Heeling in trees

Fruit trees can be left in this state for about a month or so if necessary. However they should definitely be planted before they start to come out of dormancy i.e. as Spring approaches. If you are concerned that Spring might arrive before you are ready, heel the trees in on the north side of your home or a building. This is where cooler temperatures are and this ares should keep them a the dormant state longer.

In most climate zones you do not need to worry about the top part of the tree, which can be left exposed. However, in the colder zones of North America and central Europe you might prefer to heel-in the trees indoors (e.g. in an unheated shed or barn – not in a heated house). In this situation you can use a quantity of soil or compost to simulate the trench and then proceed as above. Remember the idea is to protect the roots from frost and freezing air, so firm the soil down carefully.

May you planting and harvesting this year be in abundance.

Keep It Growing!



About the Author:

Troy Brooks Managing Director for MyHeirloomSeeds.com Heirloom Seed Company. He together with his family have been homesteading, raising livestock and living Off-Grid on their Ranch in West Texas. He is also a Certified Master Herbalist and enjoys living a Self-Sufficient lifestyle for more than 20 years.

2 Comments on "Heeling In: What To Do With Bare Root Trees"

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  1. Great article Troy!

  2. Lana says:

    The timing of this article was perfect.. as a newbie gardener I sit here, a bit intimidated, looking at two new apple trees. Thank you ever so much!