First signs of spring: planting bare root perennials is a quick and rewarding way to welcome the turn of season. (Image courtesy Alyssa Larson)

Now is the perfect time to awaken bare root perennials, which have been harvested and kept dormant in climate-controlled root cellars from late fall or early winter until the first signs of spring. Bare root perennials are typically field grown for one year, harvested, and trimmed down to one inch above the crown for winter cellar storage. Because they are easier to transport and plant, and inexpensive compared to potted plants, bare root perennials can quickly start a hedge or rapidly increase the number of blooms in your garden.

There is a wide variety of roses, trees and vegetables that can be planted bare root (meaning, they have no soil around the roots). Before you choose, just be sure that the perennials are suitable for your climate. Follow the planting suggestions for your location using the USDA Hardiness Zone or check with your local garden center. Plant after your last hard frost. The perfect bare root planting day is cool, calm and damp.


Healthy bare root perennials ready to plant. (Image courtesy Alyssa Larson)

6 Easy Steps to Planting

  1. Remove from packaging and carefully untangle roots, trimming any rotten or damaged parts. Check their condition: Healthy roots generally are firm and light brown, while undesirable ones are black and slimy. Keep the roots cool and moist at all times. If they dry out, they can be damaged or killed. When you’re ready to plant, soak the roots in a container of water for an hour. If planting must be delayed by a few days, simply mist the plants and store them in a damp kitchen towel in your refrigerator.
  1. Carve a spacious hole twice as wide as the root system and deep enough to accommodate all of the roots, loosening the soil at the bottom of the hole. Keep the bare roots covered, moist and protected from the wind while you dig.
  1. Mix a little compost into the extracted soil.
  1. Set the perennials at the same depth as the “high-tide” mark left on the root from the soil of the nursery’s root cellar. Carefully spread the roots out in all directions. In order to set the plant at the right depth, you may have to place a mound of soil under the center of the plant.
  1. Backfill the area around the plant with the compost-rich soil, ensuring the roots are in firm contact. To do this, tamp the soil by pressing the area lightly with the sole of your shoe or firmly with the palms of your hands.
  1. Water the area slowly to remove any air pockets and settle the soil. Create a catch basin around the plant with mulch and thoroughly soak the area around the plant. Mulch helps conserve water and reduces evaporation. Do not use chemicals or fertilizers in your soil because they can be damaging to your establishing plant.

Water your plant daily for the first week; every other day for one to two months; weekly until established. Reduce watering in cloudy or wet weather. Another key growing factor is light. Most bare root perennials will do best in full sunlight. Pruning is important to encourage crown and root growth. Consider spacing plants as they mature to allow for good air circulation.

Putting bare roots into dirt, nurturing them and watching them thrive will lift your spirits and cultivate a new ritual for welcoming spring each year.

Happy planting!

All images courtesy Alyssa Larson.


  1. Daniele
    Posted April 19, 2015 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

    I think there might be a mistake in step one. Putting a root, in a damp towel in the freezer will certainly kill it. Fridge would be better.

  2. Limner
    Posted April 19, 2015 at 12:59 PM | Permalink

    Okay. You saved me from pointing it out. Maybe the author meant "fridge."

  3. kaufmannmerc
    Posted April 20, 2015 at 6:45 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for pointing this out, we changed the word from freezer to refrigerator in the article.