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Planting your bare root tree

Seed catalogs for the 2011 planting season are currently available, making all the northern gardeners long for the spring gardening season. Looking at seed catalogs in they winter is almost like going on mini-vacation. Did you know that more than just flower and vegetable seeds can be ordered through a catalog?

Many fruit trees and shade trees can be shipped through the mail as bare-root stock. Bare-root trees are dug from the ground when the tree is dormant. Then, the dirt is shaken off and the trees are stored cool storage until they are shipped out.

There are many advantages to purchasing trees that are bare-root. Because soil is heavy, container-grown and balled and burlapped trees are more expensive than bare root trees. Buying a bare root stock can save you between 30 and 60 percent.

Bare root trees can have up to 200 percent more roots than balled and burlapped or container trees. This helps the bare root trees establish faster and grow better the first few years after transplanting.

Finally, bare root trees are light. Most of the weight of a transplant comes from the soil in the container. This makes moving and planting a bare root trees easy.

Working with bare root trees does have some disadvantages. Because the trees do not have soil on their roots, the roots can dry out and die. Depending on the amount of root death, the entire tree can die. The key to success is to make sure the tree never dries out.

To help ensure success, order your trees during the winter and late spring. Once the trees arrive, dip the tree roots in a slurry of hydrogel (a synthetic water-absorbing compound) then store the trees in a large, pleated plastic bag until planting. If no hydrogel is used, soak the trees in water for 12-24 hours and immediately plant. Until you can plant them keep the trees covered, shaded, and moist until actually put into the ground.

With all the benefits it's no wonder why many nurseries sell out early. If you choose to buy on-line or via mail-order make sure you buy from a reputable company that offers reasonable guarantees and money-back offers in case they don't send you quality.

Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at a.lennox.barlow@gmail.com.

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