Planting Bare Root Perennials: A Guide to Success

Have you ever eagerly received a package of plants only to find them wrapped in plastic bags with a few roots in peat moss? Although it may initially seem disappointing, bare root plants are actually a cost-effective way to purchase beautiful and unique varieties that may not be readily available locally. In this guide, we will explore how to ensure your bare root perennials thrive and flourish from the moment they arrive at your doorstep.

Scout for Signs of Good Health

Before planting your bare root perennials, it is crucial to inspect them thoroughly for any signs of damage or disease. Any broken roots can be pruned off without causing harm. However, it is important to remove dead roots promptly as they can become a breeding ground for harmful pathogens. Additionally, roots that appear dry and brittle are unlikely to recover and should be discarded, while roots that are soft, mushy, or emit a foul odor indicate rotting and should be immediately disposed of. By being proactive and attentive, you can ensure the optimal health of your plants.

Scout for problems

Preparing for the Planting Process

After inspecting your bare root plants, it is vital to give them a good start by soaking them in a bucket of water for an hour. This step provides essential hydration and primes the roots for growth. Enhance the plants’ vitality by adding a few drops of fish emulsion fertilizer to the water, giving your perennials an extra boost before planting.

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Planting Bare-Root Perennials in Pots

Potting up bare root plants is often necessary when weather conditions or soil temperatures are not yet suitable for outdoor planting. It is also a useful technique for nurturing delicate or valuable plants, allowing you to closely regulate moisture and light levels. Additionally, potting up plants during hot summer weather can provide a gentle transition for young plants. Here is a step-by-step guide to potting bare-root perennials:

Get a Good Mix: Ensure you use a soilless potting mix rather than regular soil. The majority of potting mixes consist of sphagnum, peat, and perlite, which allow for excellent drainage. Although packaged plants can suffer from dryness, it is better to use dry potting mix at this stage to prevent rotting.

Get a good mix

Pot Them Up: While your plants are still soaking, select a nursery pot that provides ample space for root growth. Fill the pot partially with the potting mix, tapping it gently on a work surface to settle it. Place the plant in the pot, filling it with more potting mix and tapping it again to ensure proper settlement. For plants without foliage, position the crown (the point where roots and green growth meet) approximately an inch below the surface of the potting mix. Proper crown placement prevents water pooling and potential rot. Ensure any sprouted foliage is visible above the potting mix.

Pot them up

Yellow leaves are common in packaged plants due to insufficient light during storage or shipping. No need to worry, as they will regain their color within a week. Water your new perennial until water flows through the holes in the bottom of the pot, and then wait 20 minutes before watering again. This technique ensures firm soil settlement around the roots, preventing rotting. Avoid overwatering until you observe visible green growth sprouting.

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Let Them Grow: Once potted, your plant requires an ideal environment to grow. During spring, when temperatures still hover around freezing, keep your plant indoors in a cool area at approximately 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Ensure it is away from air vents that can cause rapid soil and foliage drying. Even without leaves, a sunny windowsill can provide sufficient light. Within a couple of weeks, new green growth will appear, signaling that it is time to start regular watering with fish fertilizer or a balanced liquid fertilizer. When vigorous growth emerges, your plant is ready to be planted in the ground.

Planting Bare-Root Perennials in the Ground

Hardy plants like daylilies and hostas can be planted directly in the ground once the threat of frost has passed. The process is similar to potting up, but with a few distinctions:

Prepare the Soil: Just as you would before potting up, clean and soak the plants. While they are soaking, dig a hole slightly wider than the root mass of the plant. Create a small mound of soil in the center of the hole, providing support and space for the roots to spread out. Water the hole before planting to settle the soil.

Prepare the soil

Plant the Perennial: Place the plant on the mound, ensuring the crown is level with the soil’s surface. If the crown is too low, add more soil to the mound to avoid rotting. Double-check the plant’s position and refill the hole with soil.

Plant the perennial

Water the plant gently to prevent soil erosion.

Take Good Care of Your Perennial: Keep your newly planted perennial thriving by watering it once a week or more frequently if the weather is hot and dry. Even sun-loving perennials benefit from a few weeks of partial shade and protection from the hottest part of the day while they establish themselves. Consider covering the plant with a laundry basket for a few hours each day during mid- to late afternoon. Once new growth emerges, incorporate compost into the soil a few inches away from the crown to provide essential nutrients. While pests are typically not a significant issue, keep a watchful eye and address any problems promptly. Some plants, such as coral bells or daylilies, will establish quickly, while others, like hostas, may require more time. Patience is key, as those humble brown roots will soon transform into stunning, vibrant plants.

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For more information on planting perennials, check out our article on how to plant perennials in four simple steps.