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How To Plant a Tree: Potted Trees and Bare Root

how to plant a tree
by Ally North

When you buy a tree you might have a choice between potted and bare root. Potted trees are grown in containers with compost around the roots. Bare root trees are dug up from the field during their dormant season and sent to you without a pot or soil.

Jump to:

Potted trees

How to plant a potted tree

Bare root trees

How to plant a bare root tree

Watch: How to plant a tree

What is a potted tree?

Potted trees are grown in compost in their containers and can be bought and planted all year round.

potted tree

What are the advantages of a potted tree?

  • A wider choice of sizes
  • Available all year round
  • You can see what the tree looks like in leaf/blossom/even fruit
  • Some plants (including evergreens) are only available in pots
  • Can be easier to plant
  • If you’re not able to plant immediately, trees can be kept in their pots for longer

How to plant a potted tree

1. Dig the hole

Dig a hole that is 2-3 times larger than the rootsystem and to a depth of around 40cm. Loosen up the earth at the bottom of the hole so the root can easily spread.

2. Backfill the hole

Add multipurpose compost to your hole, this will enrich the soil. Mix more compost into the soil that you are going to be backfilling the hole with. You should use just over 1/2 a bag of compost for planting one tree.

3. Position your tree

Place your tree in the hole. The surface of the compost in the pot should be level with the surrounding soil. Add or take away soil from the bottom of the hole accordingly.

Our potted trees arrive in 9L eco-pots that simply slide away from the rootball causing minimal disturbance. If the roots of your tree are starting to circle around the edge of the compost your tree is at risk of becoming rootbund. To stop this happening, take a knife and cut straight lines down the side of the rootball every few inches. This encourages the roots to grow outwards instead of round.

4. Backfill the hole and firm in

Fill in your hole with the top soil & multipurpose compost mix. Do not bury the roostock or first nodule under the soil! Leave a well around the base of the tree.

Learn more about rootstocks in this article: What is a rootstock?

5. Water your tree

Pour one big bucket of water into the well. This well will hold the water and feed it directly to the roots below. It is critical to thoroughly water in any newly planted tree whatever time of year you plant it!

6. Stake your tree

After 2-3 years the tree should have established a strong enough root system to be able to support itself without the need for a stake.

What is a bare root tree?

Bare root trees are grown in fields and dug up shortly before being sent to you. They are only available in autumn, winter and early spring as this is when they’re dormant (not growing) and don’t need to be in compost.

bare root trees

What are the advantages of buying bare root?

  • Cheaper, due to reduced packaging and transport costs
  • Lighter and easier to transport to their planting place
  • A wider choice of varieties
  • Can be quicker to establish once planted
  • Need less watering when newly planted, due to the season
  • More sustainable, due to reduced transport and watering needs
  • Fruit trees are easier to train from bare root

How to plant a bare root tree

1. Soak the roots

Before planting, put the roots into a bucket of water and leave for at least an hour.

2. Dig the hole

Pick a spot that is in full sunshine (6+ hours of sunlight during spring & summer). Dig a hole that is 2-3 times bigger than the rootball.

3. Position your tree

Place your tree in the hole. Make sure the roots are not jamming themselves in. Add root grow now if you have it.

4. Backfill with topsoil and compost

Put the soil back in to a level that is just above the roots. Do not cover up the grafting join between the tree and the rootstock. Leave a well for the next step.

Learn more about rootstocks by reading this guide: What is a rootstock?

5. Water in

Use the same water that you used to soak the plant. The well that you made in the last step ensures the water goes straight down to the roots feeding the tree exactly where it needs it.

Water your tree once a week during winter and twice a week during the summer time. It is better to water your plants heavily once a week and give them a really good draining rather than watering a little bit everyday.

6. Stake in

Put the stake into the ground and gently tie the trunk to the stake. Don't tie it too tight as this could bury into the tree trunk as it grows. The reason we use a stake is to stop the wind from disturbing the newly developing roots.

Which is best for you?

There's no difference in quality between bare root and container trees, so which type is best for you depends on:

  • What time of year you want to plant
  • If you want to save money
  • Whether you have to carry your tree far
  • What size and variety of tree you want
  • If you want to train your tree

We’d advise that if you have a choice, buy bare root in autumn or winter, and potted in spring or summer.

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