’Tis the season

’Tis the season to plant bare-root,

Fa la la la laaa, la la la laaaa

OK, so we have had a frost, it won’t stop raining and any sensible hardy plant has given up and stopped growing. So it is time to dig them up and replant them somewhere else while they are fast asleep and can’t notice.

I know I write about this every autumn but it is in my mind again because I am getting some bare-root fruit this weekend.

Bare-root shrubs and trees have some advantages over pot-grown plants.

Firstly you get more for your money because it is easier and cheaper to produce a plant of a given size in a field than in a pot – just think of all the watering! In fact many potted plants are actually grown in a field and then potted for sale – most roses for example.

When you plant a bare-root plant you can spread the roots through the soil and they usually establish better – again think roses.

Without heavy soil in pots they are easier to ship by mail. Mail order specialists usually have a wider range of plants than your local garden centre.

But they are only available when the plants are dormant, from now till March, and they must be treated carefully – if the roots dry out the plants will die. So you need to have the ground ready for planting or heel them in (roughly plant in the soil) till you can plant properly.

A few plants cannot be planted bare-root, notably evergreens including conifers, holly and rhododendrons. Because these plants have leaves all year round and lose water from these leaves, the inevitable damage to the roots caused by digging them up will kill them. In the old days when I started work in gardening many evergreens were sold ‘root-balled’ – dug up with soil around the roots and wrapped in a hessian sheet. These were plunged in beds of peat at the garden centre until they were bought and placed in the purchasers’ cars where they quickly shed the contents of the hessian wrap onto the Crimplene seat covers.

So we need to prepare the soil well for our new plants, digging in lots of organic matter. The roots must not dry out and the plants are put in the ground at the same level as they were growing in the nursery. In the case of apples they must be planted so that the graft union, where the scion meets the rootstock, is above the soil level or the scion will root and negate the effect of the size-restricting rootstock. Work the soil in amongst the roots as you backfill the hole, by shaking the tree, and make sure you water, to get the soil around the roots, and stake, if necessary. All basic stuff really.

Recently I have been using Rootgrow on most of the new plantings, especially the Rosaceae such as roses, apples, plums and pears. I cannot say how good it has been – after all I have not done comparative trials. Years ago I did some research and the fact that a lot of the findings are done on very poor soils where it is undoubtedly effective, does not mean that it is of much use in good garden soil. However, I do not as yet have good garden soil – I have brown stuff. The fact that the roses have done amazingly well this year, their first season, and the apples that did not die have also put on good growth this year encourages me to say that it is well worth the cost. I will continue to use it.

As it is I have a busy weekend in store with ten hazel nuts and several apples and plums to plant.

I already have four plums in and have added the old cooking plum ‘Belle de Louvain’ which is from Belgium and dates from 1845 and the dessert plum ‘Jubileum’ (‘Jubilee’). This is a newer, Swedish, ‘Victoria’-type plum. I wanted so much to plant a ‘Victoria’ but since I always say ‘plant what you can’t get in the shops’ how could I justify it? Anyway, this is supposed to be bigger and better – the next generation.

We have become very unfussy about plums. I can’t say I like the imported plums that are sold all-year round. Despite this I have planted a Japanese plum ‘Lizzie’ which is of this type, hoping that off the tree and not shipped from South Africa they may be soft and edible. But in case they are not I have several alternatives including ‘Burbanks’ Tangerine’, reputedly the favourite plum of the late Queen Mother. As such it must either taste of gin or be very soft-fleshed – a winner on either count!

I needed some apples to replace losses up the drive. Curiously, some of these have been the old, heritage varieties that I chose because they were Irish and because they should have done well in the climate. Well, they didn’t so I have gone off-topic and bought ‘Spartan’, ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Maribelle’.

‘Spartan’ is a risk since it can be prone to canker and the bright red fruit are very ‘American apple’ in style with red skins and crisp white flesh. One of the parents was ‘McIntosh’ which may send shudders down the spine of anyone who has eaten one, but it is not the same. It dates from 1920 and is actually Canadian which may be why it is so successful in the UK and Ireland. The apples have a white bloom on the dark red skins and it is a wonderful thing to polish them on the sleeve of your jumper to make them shine. They are my guilty pleasure. Prosecco not champagne. There is no sophistication here – just delicious, crisp, grapey, sweet goodness.

‘Egremont Russet’ is the second russet I have planted and although so common it is found in supermarkets, I like this characterful apple. No beauty here, it has rough skin and the flesh is not that juicy but it is packed with flavour and very good with cheese. It even ages well and is edible even when it wrinkles in the fruit bowl. It is an apple for eating by the fire on a cold evening with some nuts, cheese and whiskey. (note the ‘e’ despite the apple being Scottish)

‘Maribelle’ is a new floozy (2005). ’Could be a one-night stand but will be OK for chopping and popping in the freezer if nothing else.

Hazelnuts soon.

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4 Comments on “’Tis the season”

  1. Sl3jardin
    November 8, 2019 at 11:57 am #

    Greetings from Chicago where it’s now extremely cold. I don’t usually comment but wanted to say I enjoy your posts immensely. Thanks, Geoff.

    • thebikinggardener
      November 10, 2019 at 5:10 pm #

      thank you for your comment and I am glad you enjoy the posts 🙂

  2. tonytomeo
    November 18, 2019 at 10:48 pm #

    Already?! and this was two weeks ago?! I suppose it will be bare root season here soon too. Sadly, I have no plans for anything that I get bare root. I might get some cane berries from what is left at the end of the season, so that it does not get discarded. I got a ‘Beauty’ plum and ‘Ranier’ cherry last year.

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