How To Plant Bare Root Tree [ Full Guide ]

Planting a bare root tree is an essential step in ensuring the growth and vitality of the tree. The method of planting a bare root tree differs from that of planting a potted tree, and it is important to follow the correct procedures to ensure the tree’s successful establishment. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the step-by-step process of planting a bare root tree, from selecting the right tree species to preparing the soil and finally planting the tree in its new location.

Quick Answer: How To Plant A Bare Root Tree

Planting a bare root tree involves several key steps, including selecting the right tree species, choosing the best location for planting, and preparing the soil for bare root planting. Once these initial steps are completed, the bare root tree can be planted using proper technique to ensure its successful growth and development.

Selecting The Right Tree Species

When planting a bare root tree, it’s important to select the right tree species for your particular environment and landscape. Consider the climate, soil type, and available space when choosing a tree species. Some key points to consider when selecting the right tree species include:

Climate Considerations

  • Hardiness Zone: Determine the hardiness zone of your area to select tree species that are well-suited to the local climate and temperature range.
  • Moisture Requirements: Consider the level of moisture your area receives and select a tree species that can thrive in those conditions.

Soil Considerations

  • Soil Type: Understand the soil type in your area, whether it’s sandy, loamy, or clay, and choose a tree species that is adapted to that soil type.
  • Soil pH: Test the soil pH and select a tree species that can thrive in the specific pH level of your soil.

Space Requirements

  • Mature Size: Consider the mature size of the tree species and ensure that the planting location can accommodate the tree’s height and spread at maturity.
  • Root Spacing: Plan for adequate root spacing to avoid competition with other plants or structures.

Choosing The Best Location For Planting

Selecting the best location for planting a bare root tree is crucial to its long-term health and vitality. Consider the following factors when choosing a location for planting:


  • Sun Exposure: Determine the sunlight requirements of the tree species and choose a location that receives the appropriate amount of sunlight.

Soil Drainage

  • Drainage: Ensure that the planting location has good soil drainage to prevent waterlogged roots, which can lead to root rot and other issues.

Space Constraints

  • Overhead Obstructions: Consider any overhead obstructions, such as power lines or buildings, and choose a location that allows for the tree’s vertical growth without interference.

Wind Exposure

  • Wind Protection: Consider the wind exposure in the area and choose a location that provides some natural wind protection, especially for young saplings.

Aesthetic Considerations

  • Landscape Design: Consider the overall landscape design and choose a location that complements the aesthetics of your outdoor space.

Preparing The Soil For Bare Root Planting

Proper soil preparation is crucial for the successful establishment of a bare root tree. The following steps will guide you through the process of preparing the soil for planting:

Soil Testing

Before planting, it’s important to conduct a soil test to assess the soil’s pH and nutrient levels. Soil testing kits are readily available at garden centers or through agricultural extension services. The test results will guide you in making any necessary soil amendments to create an optimal growing environment for the tree.

Soil Amendment

Based on the soil test results, make any necessary soil amendments to improve the soil’s fertility, structure, and pH. Common soil amendments include compost, organic matter, and specific fertilizers tailored to the tree species’ needs.

Digging The Planting Hole

When preparing to plant the bare root tree, ensure the planting hole is wide and deep enough to accommodate the tree’s roots without bending or crowding. A wider planting hole encourages root growth and establishment, leading to a healthier tree in the long run.

Root Pruning

Before planting, inspect the roots of the bare root tree and trim any damaged or excessively long roots. This helps stimulate new root growth and ensures that the tree can establish itself more effectively in its new location.

Watering The Planting Hole

Prior to planting the tree, thoroughly water the planting hole to ensure the surrounding soil is moist. This helps create a hospitable environment for the tree’s initial root growth.

Planting The Bare Root Tree

Unpacking The Tree

When you receive a bare root tree, it’s important to unpack it carefully. Remove any packing materials and inspect the roots to ensure they are healthy and undamaged. Keep the roots moist at all times and avoid exposing them to direct sunlight or harsh elements.

Spreading The Roots

Gently spread out the roots of the bare root tree in the planting hole, taking care not to bend or twist them. Position the tree so that the root collar is at ground level, ensuring that the tree is planted at the same depth it was previously grown.

Filling The Hole

Carefully backfill the planting hole with the amended soil, ensuring that there are no air pockets around the roots. Tamp down the soil gently as you fill the hole to remove air pockets and provide stability to the tree.


After planting, thoroughly water the tree to settle the soil around the roots and provide essential moisture for the tree’s initial establishment. Use a slow, steady stream of water to saturate the soil deeply, ensuring the water reaches the entire root zone.


Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or shredded bark, around the base of the tree to help retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weed growth. Leave a gap between the mulch and the tree trunk to prevent moisture buildup against the trunk, which can lead to disease and rot.

Staking (if Necessary)

In some cases, particularly with larger bare root trees or in windy locations, staking may be necessary to provide stability and support to the tree. Use soft ties and stakes to secure the tree without causing damage to the trunk or branches.

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After planting, monitor the newly planted bare root tree regularly and provide ongoing care, including adequate water, protection from pests and diseases, and periodic fertilization as needed.

Planting a bare root tree requires careful consideration of the tree species, the planting location, and proper soil preparation. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can ensure the successful establishment and long-term health of your newly planted bare root tree. With proper care and attention, your bare root tree will flourish and contribute to the beauty and diversity of your landscape for years to come.

Soaking And Hydrating The Bare Root Tree

Planting a bare root tree can be a rewarding experience that allows you to watch the tree grow and flourish over time. Unlike container-grown trees, bare root trees do not have soil surrounding their roots. Instead, their roots are exposed and require special care during planting to ensure successful growth.

Before planting a bare root tree, it is essential to properly hydrate the roots to ensure their health and vitality. Here are the steps to soak and hydrate a bare root tree:

  1. Firstly, inspect the root system of the tree. Trim any broken or damaged roots using clean and sharp pruning shears. Make clean cuts, avoiding any tearing or ripping of the roots.

  2. Find a container or bucket large enough to accommodate the entire root system. Fill the container with clean water and place the bare root tree in it. The water level should be sufficient enough to cover the roots entirely.

  3. Let the tree soak in the water for at least 12-24 hours. This duration helps the roots absorb water and rejuvenate themselves after being out of the ground.

  4. If you notice any air bubbles escaping from the roots during soaking, gently tap on the side of the container to help release any trapped air.

  5. After the soaking period, remove the tree from the water and inspect the roots. They should appear plump, firm, and well-hydrated. If any roots still look dry or shriveled, consider soaking the tree for a few more hours.

Digging The Planting Hole

Once the bare root tree is adequately soaked and hydrated, it’s time to dig a suitable planting hole. The size and depth of the hole are crucial for ensuring proper root development and stability. Let’s go through the steps involved in digging the planting hole:

  1. Select a suitable location in your garden that provides adequate sunlight, proper drainage, and enough space for the tree to grow to its full size. Consider the mature height and spread of the tree when choosing the planting site.

  2. The width of the planting hole should be at least three times the diameter of the spread-out roots. This extra width allows the roots to easily expand and establish themselves in the surrounding soil.

  3. The depth of the hole should be such that the topmost root is level with or slightly above the ground surface. To determine the appropriate depth, measure the height of the root system from the base of the trunk to the bottom of the roots.

  4. Start digging the hole with a shovel or a spade, making sure to keep the topsoil and subsoil separate. The topsoil is crucial for nourishing the tree, while the subsoil is relatively poor in organic matter.

  5. As you dig, slope the sides of the hole to prevent the roots from hitting the edge and potentially circling around it. This slope also aids in proper water drainage later on.

  6. Remove any rocks, weeds, or tree roots that may hinder the growth of the bare root tree.

  7. Once the hole is of the appropriate size and depth, use a garden fork or a shovel to loosen the bottom of the hole. This loosening of soil helps the roots penetrate and expand more easily.

Properly Positioning And Planting The Tree

Now that you have a well-prepared planting hole, it’s time to properly position and plant the bare root tree. Follow these steps to ensure correct placement and planting techniques:

  1. Place the tree in the center of the planting hole, ensuring that the roots are spread out and not bunched up or tangled. The trunk should be straight and at a slightly slanted angle away from prevailing winds, if possible.

  2. Using a level, check to see if the tree is straight. Adjust the positioning as needed.

  3. Fill the hole with the topsoil you previously set aside, ensuring that there are no air pockets around the roots. Gently pack the soil around the roots, but avoid compacting it tightly.

  4. As you backfill the hole, periodically shake or lightly tap the tree to help settle the soil and remove any remaining air pockets. Continue to fill the hole until the soil is level with the surrounding ground.

  5. Create a slight depression or "saucer" around the base of the tree to help retain water during irrigation.

  6. Avoid adding any fertilizers or soil amendments at this stage, as they may burn the tender roots. These can be applied later, once the tree has established itself.

Backfilling And Watering The Newly Planted Tree

After planting the bare root tree, proper backfilling and watering techniques are essential for supporting its growth and establishment. Here’s how to ensure the tree receives the right amount of water:

  1. Once the tree is planted, water it thoroughly to settle the soil and eliminate any remaining air pockets. You can use a hose with a gentle spray or a watering can to water the tree evenly.

  2. Apply enough water to penetrate the soil and reach the entire root zone. It is crucial not to overwater or saturate the soil, as this can lead to root rot and other issues. The amount of water required varies depending on factors such as soil type and weather conditions, so it’s important to monitor the moisture level regularly.

  3. Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, leaving a small gap around the trunk. This mulch layer helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulates soil temperature. Use materials such as wood chips, straw, or shredded bark, and apply a thickness of about 2-4 inches.

  4. While the tree is establishing itself, monitor the soil moisture regularly and water when necessary. Depending on the weather, you may need to water every few days or once a week. Be mindful of rainfall, as excessive watering can lead to root suffocation.

  5. In the first year after planting, it is crucial to provide consistent and adequate water to the tree. This ensures healthy growth and development.

Planting a bare root tree requires careful attention to detail, from soaking and hydrating the roots to positioning and planting the tree in the right location. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can ensure the successful establishment and growth of your bare root tree. Remember to water the tree regularly, provide proper drainage and sunlight, and monitor its progress over time. With patience and proper care, your bare root tree will thrive and become a beautiful addition to your garden.

Mulching And Staking The Tree

Planting a bare root tree is an affordable and efficient way to add beauty and shade to your landscape. Unlike container-grown trees, bare root trees do not come with any soil around their roots. They are typically less expensive and easier to transport, making them a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers.

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Planting a bare root tree may seem daunting, especially if you’re new to gardening. However, with the right techniques and care, you can successfully establish a healthy and thriving tree.

Mulching and staking are crucial steps in the planting process as they help protect the tree and provide necessary support. Here’s how you can mulch and stake a bare root tree effectively:

  1. Prepare the soil: Before planting the tree, ensure that the soil is well-draining and rich in organic matter. Remove any weeds or rocks from the planting area and loosen the soil with a garden fork or tiller.

  2. Soak the roots: If the tree has been stored for a while, it’s important to hydrate the roots before planting. Fill a bucket or container with water and place the bare root tree in it for a few hours prior to planting.

  3. Dig the hole: The size of the hole should be wide and shallow to allow the roots to spread out. Make the hole two to three times wider than the spread of the roots and deep enough to accommodate the length of the roots.

  4. Position the tree: Gently place the tree into the hole, ensuring that the bud union (the swollen area where the tree was grafted onto the rootstock) is above the soil line. The roots should be spread out and not curled or bunched up.

  5. Backfill the hole: Fill the hole with the soil that was removed. As you backfill, lightly tamp the soil to remove air pockets. Avoid packing the soil too tightly as it may restrict root growth.

  6. Mulch the planting area: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, leaving a small gap around the trunk to allow air circulation. Mulch helps retain moisture, suppresses weed growth, and insulates the roots from extreme temperatures. Wood chips, straw, or shredded bark make excellent mulching materials.

  7. Stake the tree (if necessary): If the tree is top-heavy or in a windy area, it may require staking for support. Use two or three stakes placed outside the root ball. Attach flexible tree ties or garden twine to the trunk, making sure not to constrict the tree. Allow some movement of the tree to encourage root development and trunk strength.

Caring For The Tree After Planting

After planting your bare root tree, it’s important to provide proper care to help it establish and thrive. Here are some essential steps to follow:

  1. Watering: Proper watering is crucial for the tree’s survival. Immediately after planting, thoroughly water the tree until the soil is evenly moist. For the first few weeks, water the tree deeply once a week or as needed, ensuring that the root zone is adequately hydrated. Monitor the soil moisture regularly, especially during hot and dry periods. Avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot.

  2. Pruning: Pruning is necessary to shape the tree and remove any damaged or crossing branches. However, it’s best to avoid significant pruning in the first year after planting to allow the tree to establish its root system. Limited pruning for corrective purposes can be done during this period.

  3. Fertilizing: During the first year, a bare root tree usually doesn’t require fertilization as it already has sufficient nutrients in its roots. However, if the soil is poor or lacking in nutrients, you can apply a slow-release organic fertilizer around the tree in the second spring after planting. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application.

  4. Protection from pests and diseases: Regularly inspect the tree for any signs of pests or diseases. Common pests that can affect bare root trees include aphids, caterpillars, and borers. If you notice any infestation, use appropriate organic insecticides or natural pest control methods to manage the problem. Similarly, be vigilant for signs of diseases such as leaf spots or wilting, and promptly address any issues.

  5. Weed control: Keep the planting area free from weeds as they compete for water, nutrients, and sunlight with the tree. Remove weeds manually or use a shallow cultivation tool to avoid damaging the tree’s roots. Applying a layer of mulch helps suppress weed growth, making it easier to maintain a weed-free environment.

Common Problems And How To Address Them

Despite your best efforts, bare root trees may encounter certain problems. It’s important to identify these issues early and take appropriate measures to address them. Here are some common problems and their solutions:

  1. Lack of growth: If your bare root tree is not showing signs of growth, it may be due to various factors such as inadequate water or sunlight, poor soil conditions, or damage to the roots during planting. Ensure that the tree is receiving sufficient water, sunlight, and nutrients. Consider soil testing or amending the soil with organic matter to improve its quality. If the problem persists, consult with a local arborist or horticulturist for further guidance.

  2. Wilting or yellowing leaves: Wilting or yellowing leaves can indicate a water stress issue. Check the soil moisture levels and adjust your watering accordingly. Soil that is consistently waterlogged or excessively dry can cause leaf wilting or discoloration. Proper watering practices can help resolve this problem.

  3. Root rot: Overwatering or poorly draining soil can lead to root rot, a fungal disease that can kill the tree. To prevent root rot, ensure that the soil drains well and avoid excessive watering. If you suspect root rot, dig around the root zone and inspect the roots. Healthy roots should be firm and white, while rotted roots will appear dark and mushy. In severe cases, it may be necessary to remove and replace the tree.

  4. Pest infestation: Aphids, caterpillars, borers, and other pests can attack bare root trees. Monitor the tree regularly for signs of pest activity such as visible insects, chewed leaves, or distorted growth. Use insecticidal soaps, neem oil, or other organic pest control products to manage minor infestations. For severe pest problems, consult with a professional arborist or pest control specialist.

  5. Girdling roots: Girdling roots are roots that grow in circles around the trunk, eventually strangling the tree. This can happen if the tree was planted too deeply or the roots were not adequately spread out during planting. To prevent girdling roots, ensure that the root flare (the area where the trunk starts to flare out) is at or slightly above the soil surface. If you notice girdling roots, it’s best to consult with an arborist for proper root pruning techniques.

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Additional Tips For Successful Bare Root Tree Planting

To ensure the success of your bare root tree planting, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Choose the right tree: Select a tree species that is suited to your climate, soil conditions, and available space. Consider factors such as mature size, water requirements, and sunlight preferences. Consult local nurseries or extension offices for recommendations.

  2. Plant at the right time: Bare root trees should be planted during their dormant season when they are less susceptible to transplant shock. In most regions, this is usually in late winter or early spring before bud break. Avoid planting during extreme weather conditions such as frost or heatwaves.

  3. Handle roots with care: The delicate roots of bare root trees can easily be damaged during handling. Avoid bending or breaking the roots, and always support the root ball when moving or planting the tree.

  4. Protect against wildlife: Wildlife such as rabbits, rodents, or deer may be attracted to the tender bark and foliage of newly planted trees. Install tree guards or fencing around the tree to deter them from causing damage.

  5. Monitor moisture consistently: Regularly check the soil moisture around the tree to ensure it remains adequately hydrated. Adjust watering as necessary to prevent under or overwatering.

  6. Observe proper spacing: Consider the mature size of the tree and plant it at an appropriate distance from buildings, power lines, and other trees or structures. Proper spacing allows the tree to grow and develop without interference.

  7. Learn from local experts: Consult with local arborists, horticulturists, or extension offices for specific advice and guidelines tailored to your region. They can provide valuable insights into the best practices for planting and maintaining bare root trees in your area.


Planting a bare root tree can be a rewarding experience that allows you to grow a beautiful and resilient tree in your landscape. By following the step-by-step instructions outlined in this guide and providing the necessary care, you can ensure the successful establishment and long-term health of your bare root tree. Remember to monitor the tree regularly, address any issues promptly, and seek professional advice when needed. With time, patience, and proper care, your bare root tree will flourish and enhance the beauty of your outdoor space for years to come.


What Is A Bare Root Tree?

A bare root tree is a tree that has been removed from the ground while in a dormant state, with its roots exposed and free of soil.

When Should I Plant A Bare Root Tree?

The ideal time to plant a bare root tree is during its dormant season, which is typically in late fall to early spring. The exact timing will depend on your climate and the specific type of tree.

How Do I Prepare The Planting Site For A Bare Root Tree?

The site should be well-drained and have plenty of sunlight. It is also important to loosen the soil and remove any weeds or competing plants before planting the tree.

How Should I Plant The Bare Root Tree?

First, dig a hole that is wide enough to accommodate the spread of the tree’s roots. Then, gently spread out the roots and position the tree in the hole at the same depth it was previously planted. Backfill the hole with soil, tamping it down gently to remove any air pockets.

How Should I Care For A Newly Planted Bare Root Tree?

Keep the tree well-watered, but not overly saturated, during its first growing season. You should also protect the tree from harsh winter conditions by mulching around the base and wrapping the trunk with burlap if necessary. Regularly check for any signs of pests or disease and address any issues promptly.