How to Plant a Bare-root Fruit Tree Step by Step

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Planting a bare root fruit tree

The vegetable garden has become noticeably quieter recently but there’s one area where there’s still work to be done – the fruit garden!

Autumn is a great time to plant because trees are now dormant and won’t require as much immediate ongoing care. Bare-root trees, which are much cheaper than container-grown ones, are grown in the ground by the nursery then dug up for sale once they’re dormant, between late autumn and early spring.

If you live in an area where the ground is frozen for much of winter, wait til spring to plant.

Prepare the Ground for Your Fruit Tree

First up is ground preparation. If you are planting into an area of lawn begin by removing an area of turf at least three feet (1m) in diameter. This will stop grass from competing with the young tree for moisture and nutrients.

Dig out any perennial weeds, including roots. If your soil is either very sandy or heavy with clay, add plenty of organic matter to the entire planting area and dig this in. I’m using well-rotted garden compost. Amending the whole area rather than just the planting hole will encourage roots out into the surrounding soil, helping the tree establish quicker.

Dig a planting hole into the prepared area that easily accommodates the roots, so they aren’t crammed in and don’t bend back on themselves. All the ground preparation you did earlier should make this a pretty straightforward job.

Now drive a stake into the ground – at least a couple of feet (60cm) deep so it won’t wobble about in the wind.

Soak your bare-root fruit tree to hydrate it before planting

Plant Your Bare-root Fruit Tree

Soak your fruit tree in a bucket of water for a couple of hours before planting to give it a good drink. Before you plant, take a careful look at the trunk, just above the roots. You should see a ine where the base of the trunk goes from dark to light, indicating the original soil level. Our aim is to plant the tree at this same depth. If the line isn’t obvious, make sure to plant your tree just deep enough to cover the roots.

Use a cane or tool handle to bridge the ground either side of the planting hole and serve as a guide for the soil level. Begin filling back the soil while holding the tree at the correct level. As you fill, shake the trunk so that the soil gets in between all of the roots.

Plant at the previous soil level, well below the graft point

When you are close to the top of the hole, firm in the soil with the toe of your boot pointing towards the trunk so you don’t stamp it down and compact it. Then fill in with the remainder of the soil.

Thoroughly water around the planting area to settle in the soil further.

Support and Protect Your Young Fruit Tree

Secure the tree to the stake using a tree tie. Tree ties are usually made of rubber, which is stretchy and gentle on the bark. Secure it in a figure of eight around the stake and trunk, about two feet (60cm) above the ground.

Then spread a two-inch (5cm) layer of organic mulch such as compost around the tree to help suppress weeds and retain moisture. Keep the mulch clear of the trunk to prevent it rotting.

Use a cane to make it easy to plant your bare-root tree at the correct level

If rabbits are a problem in your garden you can add a simple spiral tree guard, which protects the bark from their gnawing. If deer visit your garden you’ll probably need to fence in the tree. If you’re planting lots of trees it’s usually be easier to fence the whole area rather than individual trees.

Trees shouldn’t need watering over the winter, but once the growing season gets underway, be sure to keep young trees well watered to help them establish.

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Show Comments


"Thank you so much for this video! You must have read my mind, I was just thinking about planting fruit trees. I will begin this spring with some quinces (they won't ship until spring). If they survive, there will be plums, cherries, and apricots!"
Marit on Friday 22 November 2019
"That's brilliant Marit. Glad it was so well timed. Good luck with your quinces. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 November 2019
"Thank you for your videos! Always informative! If you know a way to keep voles from eating the roots of fruit trees and cane fruit, would love to hear. "
Terrance on Sunday 1 December 2019
"Glad you enjoyed the video Terrance - that's great. Not sure what to do about those pesky voles though. You could try a fruit cage, well secured at the ground, but I suspect they'll still find a way in. But it could be worth a try? It will be interesting to see if anyone else has any suggestions for dealing with voles."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 2 December 2019
"IHello, Thank you for your very valuable information. I would appreciate an answer from anyone, please. I would like to know if the of-shoots from a fruit tree is able to grow into solo-standing fruit trees. Several of our fruit trees have off-shoots close to the trunk, which may possibly be growing from the tree roots. Some actually sprout from the lower trunk of the tree. If these would be able to grow, how would I cut them off from the trunk or roots and what should I do to prepare them for planting? Also, should they first be placed in a container until roots grow from them, or should I just plant them into the ground" Thank you much, Ed. "
Ed van Gass on Sunday 5 January 2020
"Hi Ed. What you are describing is 'suckers'. Suckers appear at or near the graft union, drawing valuable nutrients away from the tree. For this reason they should be pruned/cut away at the point they emerge from the trunk. It is not worth trying to root these suckers. They are most likely from the roots, in which case you won't be getting the same variety of fruit as the tree you are growing. This is because the rootstock is a different variety from the tree on top that you are growing for their fruits. For this reason I'd advise simply removing all suckers from where they emerge and buying in young fruit trees to replant if more are needed."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 6 January 2020
"Hi I planted a bare rooted fruit tree last year seems to be doing fine only the central leader has no growth do I need to cut it "
Marie on Sunday 17 May 2020
"Hi Marie. I would leave the central leader be for now, if you are just trying to grow a free-standing tree."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 20 May 2020
"Thank you for the videos. Really helpful for us as beginners at planting fruit trees."
Ruth HallD8T48 on Monday 1 March 2021
"I have never tried this, but read somewhere, that if your soil is heavy clay, dig a SQUARE hole, versus a round one, to plant a tree. The idea being, the amended soil you backfill the hole with will be easy for the roots to grow in, so they will tend to just go round and round, without ever venturing outward (making for an insecure hold to the dirt). With a square hole, the roots will grow until they hit a corner, then tend to grow into the surrounding soil. Definitely worth a try!"
William on Wednesday 3 March 2021
"Excellent practical advice on planting a bare rooted fruit tree"
Andrew Dyer on Saturday 6 March 2021
"Hi William. I had heard similar advice. But I think if the planting hole is big enough then it should really matter what shape it is - though as you say, worth a try!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 March 2021
"That stake is too long. The top of the tree will rub against it in a high wind. And use a mallet or a sledge to drive it in. A hammer is likely to split it."
Martin Cook on Thursday 20 January 2022

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