If you’re looking to buy a new tree, including hedging plants and larger shrubs, you will probably find you have three options:
- Containerised (that is, in a pot)
- Root-balled (usually having been root-pruned and wrapped in fabric)
At this time of year, bare rooted plants are starting to become available to buy or pre-order. They will usually be cheaper than the other options and provide the opportunity to put plants in the ground outside of their growing season, when they will be less distressed. If we have a long winter, bare-root season can extend to early April in the south but we’d suggest not leaving it as late as that.
Your bare-root plant is likely to be between one and three years old. It should be wrapped in polythene or some other medium to prevent the roots drying out. Select a plant that has an even spread of root growth and which looks fairly well developed.
Your plant will need planting as soon as possible to prevent it drying out and to get it established quickly. If you know you’re not going to have an opportunity to plant it within a few days, we’d suggest waiting before you buy it. Your plant might survive longer if you water it but you won’t be giving it the best start.
Before planting your new plant, give it a soak while you dig the hole you want to plant it in. Your hole should be just deep enough that all the roots will be underground and the stem or trunk is above ground. Depending on the room you have available, you can make your hole up to three times as wide as the root system, to ensure the tree is not trying to establish itself in compacted soil.
Remove any wrappings from the roots and, if they are knotted or bound up, tease them out. Place the plant in the hole, supporting it at the correct height for the soil level, and refill around it, being careful to ensure you don’t leave air pockets. If it’s large enough or in an exposed position, think about adding a stake or support while it establishes itself. If your area is prone to rabbits or deer, think about adding a tree guard too.
Finally, give the whole area a good watering, even if it’s a wet day. Drought stress is common with newly planted trees and shrubs so make sure it doesn’t dry out during its first few years. It also helps to keep the area weeded, so it’s not competing with other plants, and you might want to fertilise or mulch the area during the winter to help it establish. (Don’t mulch right up to the trunk as that may cause rot).
Finally, if you’re thinking about a new tree but aren’t sure what to choose, we like the Woodland Trust’s guide to native trees.