By now, most central Texas gardeners have experienced at least a light frost if not a hard freeze. Our summer-loving perennials are fading, losing blooms, dropping leaves and going to seed in preparation for winter dormancy.
While it may seem like it’s break time in the garden, now is actually a great time to plant a number of things. Nurseries are now stocking up on bare root plants – a wide variety of plants, vegetables and trees that are available for sale with their roots exposed instead of planted in containers with soil.
Bare root plants are dormant, dug up by the grower and kept cold until they are shipped. They weigh less without soil and containers and are much easier to ship, therefore, they are a great value because they cost less. Once the plant is placed in the ground and watered, it will begin to grow again.
According to Jeff Ferris, of the Natural Gardener, “It is less expensive to plant a bare root tree. If a bare root tree and a container tree are planted at the same time, with the exact same care and conditions, they will reach the same height at the same time.”
Larger container trees take longer to overcome the setbacks and shock of transplanting from the grower and having their roots cut to place them in containers. So buying a smaller, bare root tree will give it a better start and cost less, too.
What kinds of plants are available bare root?
- Fruit and nut trees
Most fruit trees require a specific number of “chilling hours” to grow and fruit properly.
This is the number of hours of winter temperatures between 32° to 45° F to break dormancy and induce normal bloom and vegetative growth. Varieties with a chilling requirement that is too low are likely to bloom early and be more susceptible to frost. If the chilling requirement is too high, they may be very slow to break dormancy and may abort fruit.
According to Texas A&M University’s Agricultural Extension Service, Travis County has approximately 700 average chill hours. (Bear in mind, “average” is a very slippery slope for central Texas gardeners, given our seesawing weather patterns in recent years.)
The specific varieties listed below meet the appropriate chilling requirements for the Travis County. (In an “average” year!)
Peaches (Well-adapted to our extreme climate swings)
- La Feliciana
- Spring Gold
- June Gold
- Red Gold
Pears (Easy fruit trees to grow, require least pruning and insect control)
These are generally the most popular fruit trees grown in our area. Apples, apricots, citrus, figs, pecans, persimmons and others can also be grown successfully in central Texas. Ask your local nursery expert about well-adapted varieties of these trees.
Some trees are self-pollinating, however most fruit trees require cross-pollination. These trees need pollen from another tree to produce fruit, and the tree must be a different cultivar. Pollen from its own flowers or those of another tree of the same cultivar will not successfully pollinate the female parts of the flowers, due to incompatible timing. Be sure to check with the nursery to determine if a specific variety needs a pollinator to produce fruit.
Grapes (Nearly half of all species of grapes are native to Texas. While wild mustang grapes are prolific here, they aren’t as versatile for table use.)
- Blanc Du Bois
- Golden Muscat
- Tioga, Fresno, Tangi
- Dorman Red
- Green Globe
- Imperial Star
- Martha Washington
- UC 157
- Jersey Giant
- UC 72
- Jade Cross
- Long Island Improved
There are at least 100 varieties of roses that grow well in central Texas – far too many to list. For specific varieties, from climbers to floribundas, the A&M horticulture website has an extensive listing at:
How to know if the plant is healthy
If you’ve never bought bare root plants before, they might look like dead sticks. But there are ways to make sure you’re getting a good specimen.
- Check for mold or mildew on the roots. If the mold coverage is very light, you can clean it off. But, if mold covers the roots or the root feels soft, the plant is dead.
- A healthy specimen will have lots of intact root “hairs.” Check for broken roots, you can cut off the root at the bend but never cut a healthy root to accommodate the size of your hole.
- The plant may smell earthy, but should not smell bad or rotten .
- The branches should not be damaged. A few broken twigs are okay.
- Roots, rhizomes, and other parts should feel heavy. If they feel light and dried
- out then the plant probably will not grow.
At most local nurseries, customers wrap and bag their own fruits and vegetables – placing the plant and some sand in newspaper, wetting the newspaper and then placing it in a plastic bag around the plant. I always get a kick out of the process, feeling like I somehow have a more personal connection with the plant after I’ve lovingly wrapped it up to bring home.
How to plant and care for bare root plants
Once you’ve taken your plants home, remove any packing material, such as sawdust or sand and soak the root portion of the plant in water, several hours for woody plants and 10-20 minutes for perennials, asparagus, strawberries, etc. It is important to get bare root plants into the ground quickly.
Dig a hole that is wide enough and deep enough to put the plant in without
bending or crowding the roots. Place the plant in the hole at the same level it was grown by the nursery — where the roots start and top shoots begin (the crown). Don’t cover the root graft or the crown of your plants. Spread the roots out evenly and don’t backfill the holes of trees with anything other than the soil that was dug out to create the hole.
Water the plant thoroughly, making sure that the soil around the roots is moist. And finally, mulch the plant to help protect it. Water new plants regularly until established.
Bare root trees will probably need to be staked for one year.