Planting/Over-wintering Bare Root Seedlings

Considerations for the Planting Site – prepare the site before getting the plants, if possible.

  • Good drainage, adequate light, soil type
    • If you have poor drainage, plant the trees on raised planting sites
  • Avoid planting in frost pockets, or low-lying land
  • Consider the mature size of the tree and neighbouring plants/structures
  • If planting a tree that you will be harvesting from, consider access during the harvest season


Caring for Seedlings Prior to Planting

  • Bare root seedlings must be planted while they are dormant to reduce stress and improve survival.
  • Roots must not be exposed to freezing temperatures, bright sun, or drying winds. Even for short periods of time, as this will kill the roots.
  • If you cannot plant them right away, store them in a dark location between 1 and 10°C, keeping the roots moist. Or you can heel them into light, moistened soil, temporarily, on the north side of a building until you are ready to plant (see video below).
  • Prior to planting, soaking the roots in willow tea, or adding liquid kelp to the bucket of water, will stimulate and sustain cell division, particularly in root tissue. Soak for no more than 24 hours.

Planting Your Seedlings

  • Dig the hole wider than the width of the roots, but not deeper. If the hole is too deep, the tree will settle over time as the soil settles, leaving it too deep in the ground.
  • With heavy clay or compacted soil, use a shovel or garden fork to loosen the bottom and sides of the holes. If the sides of the hole are smooth, the roots will have a hard time penetrating through.
  • With disinfected pruners, remove any damaged roots prior to planting.
  • Lay a shovel across the hole to indicate the soil surface line. Place the seedling into the hole and spread out the roots so they extend outward and downward. The root crown should be located just below the soil surface. The crown is the area where the stem broadens and becomes the root. Take note of where the roots are located, so you can install a stake without damaging the roots. 
  • Start to fill the hole with the soil you removed, and you can mix in a small amount of compost, but most of the compost should be added to the upper layers of soil and the soil surface. Tamp the soil as you fill it, to avoid air pockets. Install the stakes, about 1 foot from the tree trunk, one on either side of the tree, avoiding the roots. You will need stakes in order to connect tree protection, such as a tree tube or hardware cloth, to protect your tree from rodents, especially through the winter.
  • Finish filling the hole, tamping as your go. Once filled, remove the shovel, and tamp the soil down with your foot – before watering.
  • Water the tree, which will remove any possible air pockets against the roots.
  • Add a tree guard or hardware cloth. Both should be a couple inches under the soil surface to protect from voles. 


General Seedling Care 

  • Water with one 5 gallon bucket of water every 4 days. This should be a slow drip. I drill holes into the bottom of buckets, fill the bucket and leave it to drip out until it is empty. Each time I water, I move the bucket to a new location around the tree. If it rains a ½” in one rain, then you don’t need to water.
  • Add amendments and compost along the soil surface around the dripline of the tree.
  • Keep the grass and weeds away from the trunk, as they can choke out and kill your tree, as they compete for nutrients and water.
    • You can use weed mats, or cardboard with wood chips on top. Avoid putting the cardboard and wood chips up against the trunk of the tree. You want to create a donut shape and not a volcano with the wood chips. You can also use straw and leaves under the cardboard, which will break down over time, feeding the soil food web and the tree. Keep the mulch 4-5” thick, no thicker.
  • Monitor for pests – aphids, caterpillars, scale etc., that can cause damage to your trees. Your trees need leaves to photosynthesize and feed themselves. If there is too much leaf damage, they will suffer and possibly die.


Happy planting!