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Caring for Bare Root Trees Upon Arrival

Hooray! The arrival of bare root trees is a harbinger of spring we eagerly look forward to each year as the seasons shift. Nurturing bare root trees isn’t difficult but requires a different strategy than annuals and potted plants. Think the opposite! Bareroot trees want damp, dark, and cold rather than sunny and warm. We don’t bring them into the greenhouse, or leave them out in the sun before they are planted. They can be stored in a cold basement or garage but not inside a heated space. Here are a few tips to keep in mind so your bare root trees can flourish for years (and generations!) to come.

When Your Apple Trees Arrive!

~ Hooray! Open your tree box as soon as possible!

~ Moisten your roots & plant as soon as possible!

~ Enjoy the deep dive of Bare Root Tree Care below and, before you plant, hop into Fruition’s 10 Steps of Planting a Tree blog to build your skills as well as confidence! Also, if you haven’t already, hop into our free online course, Apples & Organic Orcharding and join our upcoming tree workshops and Apple Q & Q s on the calendar!

~ Bring your curiosity & questions to our hands-on tree workshops.

~ We’re here to help you & if you have any concerns about your tree, first view our return & refund policy and thanks for emailing within a week of receiving your trees.

If you’re not able to plant immediately…

~ Moisten your roots upon arrival

~ Reseal your tree to maintain optimum humidity 

~ Keep your box in a cool, shaded place indoors like a basement or garage. Avoid drafty areas.

~ Check on root moisture every few days, adding moisture as needed. Reseal well!

~ Trees keep 2 weeks & often longer; prepare prior to planting so you’re ready when the planting moment arrives!

When Your Apple Trees Arrive: The Details!

Live plants arriving on the doorstep is one of our greatest pleasures and we’re so delighted to finally have trees to share. When the shipment arrives, remove the package from sunlight, heat, and freezing temperatures. We immediately bring the package around to an outdoor hose where we can easily wet down the roots.

Rather than prying the box open from the staples, carefully cut the tape on the heavier (root ball!) end of the box…

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…and, lifting the four flaps, slide your trees by the root ball out of the box!

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Open the box, find the order, and sift through to be certain everything on the order is included. Any out of stock items will be reflected on the order. Contact us if anything is missing.

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Always pull/lift your trees from the root rather than the top to prevent any breakage.

Plant trees as soon as they arrive, or in the days following when possible. Trees can be stored longer than a few days but may begin leafing out as they wait to go in the ground. They will experience transplant shock if planted with leaves and may not survive if not given enough water.

Set aside damp packing material and water the roots so there are no dry spots. After the roots are watered, lightly sprinkle water over the tops of the trees too.

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We recommend adding ~1 pint of water when your trees arrive to be sure your roots are fully moist until the moment you plant.

Sprinkle water on the packing material if the trees are not getting planted immediately. It should be damp but not sopping wet and will be placed around the roots again for storage.

What to expect? Trees will be 3-5 foot whips, or unbranched trees. 

Inspect the trees for any damage that may have occurred during shipping. If necessary, broken trees can be cut just below the damage:

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If your tree snaps within the top foot, simply make a ‘heading cut’ by making a clean cut just above the uppermost bud, see image below. This top bud will become the new leader and will grow vertically upwards to the top of the stake.
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Watch our video (both toward the top of the page and below in the Pruning section) sharing how to approach when trees break in shipping.

Mold happens when trees are shipped when temperatures begin to warm. White or grayish surface mold may have formed in transit from the humidity inside the box. Surface mold doesn’t hurt the tree and can easily be hosed off.

If trees are being planted on the same day they arrive, roots can be placed in a bucket of water for up to 2 hours before planting to aid in water uptake for a successful transplant. 

If the trees need to be stored until they are planted, an unheated basement, garage, or dark, cool shed or barn that doesn’t freeze is excellent temporary storage. Trees will dessicate if they are brought into the house, a basement with a furnace running, or left outside and exposed to wind before they are planted. They may also perish if their roots freeze while in storage. 

Mice love to chew on the young bark so always stand trees up vertically when storing them.

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Storing the Trees Until Planting

~ ideally plant your tree within 1 week of its arrival ~

After inspecting the trees and watering, cover the roots back up with dampened packing material and tightly wrap the root ball with the plastic from the box so there are no gaping air holes. The plastic should be tied snug around the trunks. Check the roots every couple of days to see if they need watering while keeping an eye out for mold. Wash off surface mold if it occurs. Roots and packing material should be kept damp until the trees are planted.

If the ground is still frozen solid when the shipment arrives, the trees can be stored in a cool and dark spot until it has thawed enough to dig a hole. It’s fine to plant apple trees even if the temperatures are still dipping below freezing and the snow hasn’t melted on the ground. Trees are happier in the ground than in storage.

Fruit trees don’t transplant nearly as easily in warm weather as they do in the cold. The longer the trees are stored, the more they will wake up from dormancy and potentially experience transplant shock. This should be avoided whenever possible. Once trees leaf out, they will require extra attention and watering in their first season, especially if there is drought.

Pruning Staked Trees

Unless damaged, apple trees on Geneva 935 and Geneva 202 rootstocks will not require pruning at the time of planting. 

If the tree appears as though it was damaged in shipping and needs repair, a pair of bypass pruners can be used to cut just below the damage and above the highest bud. This top bud will become the new central leader. This is called a heading cut and while it is advantageous for freestanding trees because it promotes structural branching called scaffolds, it delays fruiting by one or more years. Heading cuts are typically avoided at the time of planting when trees are being staked or trellised in order to encourage the tree’s energy to go into gaining height rather than horizontal branching. 

When planting apple trees on stakes, the goal is to facilitate vertical growth to reach the top of the stake as quickly as possible. Trees will bear fruit earlier, within 2-4 years, if they don’t receive a heading cut eliminating the terminal bud, the bud on top of the central leader which is responsible for vertical growth. 

Refrain from pruning as much as possible in the first few years while the tree is gaining height and growing upward to the top of the stake. Apples will bear fruit sooner if pruned minimally the first few years. Only prune if the tree snaps, breaks, or sustains some sort of damage. In the right conditions, the tree will reach the top of the stake within 2-3 years and begin fruiting in year 3 or 4.

There are various pruning methods for semi-dwarfing and dwarfing trees on stakes which differ from the approaches commonly used for freestanding trees. The two most common pruning methods for stakes are vertical axe and tall spindle. Freestanding trees typically receive a heading cut to develop a permanent branching system, vertical axe produces some small scaffolds, and tall spindle has essentially no permanent branches. We recommend pruning with a vertical axe method for staked trees that aren’t being planted in a high-density setting.

And Friends!

We’re so often in a rush and one of the greatest gifts of trees, if we choose to accept it, is to slow down. In the shade of branches and the beauty of blossoms, the joy of the birds and shared abundance with friends, let there be pause. No matter how brief, before rushing off to the next demanding moment, take a deep breath. Root yourself into the earth. Give thanks for your growing edges. Listen for birdsong. Feel your lungs fill. You are at home. You are among family.

may the trees we plant amplify abundance for us all

Sow Seeds & Sing Songs,

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& the whole Fruition crew

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