What is a Bare Root Plant? Garden Tips 2024

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Plant roots belong in the dirt, right? But there’s another category called bare-root plants. If you’ve ever come across these weird-looking plants, read on for more information.

Bare root plants: A bare root plant is a perennial that is in a dormant state. It can be easily shipped and once it is delivered, you can then store it in a cold place with its roots damp until you are ready to put it in the ground. Although bare-root plants can take a few months to start growing again, they will come back to life. Common examples of bare root plants are asparagus, strawberries, roses, and other perennials.

What does it mean to buy a bare root plant?

Perennial plants have roots and when they become dormant, you can dig them up and store them. This process can be done without any soil around the roots and the plants will still be alive when you plant them the following year.

While you can do this process yourself, many commercial plant growers engage in the process. They dig up perennial roots, refrigerate them, and then ship them out to buyers.

Benefits of bare root plants

Benefit 1 – Easier to ship

As you can imagine, the shipping process is more expensive the larger the item is. With bare root plants, the weight and size are much smaller than if you had a live plant in a pot of soil.

Not only is this easier for a distributor but it will save you as a customer a lot of money. It is easy enough to plant bare roots once you get them and saves a lot of hassle.

Benefit 2 – You can plant when ready

So often plant lovers start itching for their crop of spring plants they can grow. And too often, these plant lovers jump the gun and buy a bunch of plants that are simply not ready for the cold soil.

With bare root plants, you can purchase them when you have the urge but can hold off until the soil is actually ready for planting. While you will have to store the bare root plants, this is easily done in a cold place like a garage or cellar.

How do you plant bare root plants?

Step 1 – The right timing

Bare root plants do best when they are put in the ground during cool weather. This is between fall and spring but be aware of your own climate.

If the ground is frozen, in the middle of winter, it will not be a good condition. Instead, aim for late fall or early spring if you live in a climate with severe winters.

Step 2 – Keep the roots moist

If you have plants that are not ready for the ground yet, that is ok. However, the roots need to be moist.

Simply wrap the roots in a wet paper towel. You can also wet the packaging the plant comes in, depending on the material.

Then, store your bare root plants in your fridge. If you live in a very cold climate, a space like your garage will probably be cold enough for storage.

Step 3 – Dig a large hole

Even though the roots will be moist, they will be very rigid so you want to take care that you don’t snap off the roots as you plant them.

Dig a hole that is slightly deeper than the length of your roots. However, the crown of the plant should just peek above the soil level, as the plant will settle as roots come to life.

Step 4 – Fill in the hole

Once your bare root plant is in place, you can fill in the hole. You may want to add a bit of organic matter and then top it off with soil.

If your roots are sticking up over the soil, mound the soil over the top of them to cover them as they settle.

Step 5 – Water and stake

Give your plant a good watering so that the roots are given a sign they need to wake up. This will also allow the soil to settle around the soil.

If your hole indents too much, you can always add more soil. For those in colder climates, add a layer of mulch.

New plants do well with a stake to keep them upright as they start to grow again. Even if your plant seems ok, it’s better to start with a stake instead of risking your branch break off.

Signs your bare root plants are healthy

If you are new to bare-root plants, you may be wondering how to tell if you are in fact purchasing something that is still alive. For this case, here are a few important signs your plants are still healthy.

  • Always check for smells. If anything smells rotten, it is a sign that there is mold. However, the smell of dirt should be present.
  • Check for the top of the tree as well as the roots for anything broken. The stems and branches should be unbroken and not severely damaged, although there may be some breaks during transit.
  • Look for signs of mold or mildew, both on the plant and in the packaging. This can be in the form of black, green, or white spots.
  • Finally, monitor your plant after it goes in the soil. If nothing grows within the same year, then unfortunately it may not be alive. However, this can take up to a year so you may have to wait a few months for signs of growth.

How long does it take bare root plants to grow?

It can take a few months and even up to a year for a bare root plant to grow. As long as there are some signs of new life after a few months, your plant is still healthy.


Bare root plants and shrubs are a great way to have your dream plants delivered, without the hassle of a pot full of dirt. You can plant them when you are ready and in a few months, they will emerge from their dormant state to become fully alive plants.

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