All About Bare-Root Fruit Trees: Fundamentals & 6 Common Questions

Cherry cobbler in the springtime sun.
Apple pie for some summer fun.
Fresh plums for an out-the-door snack.
I ain’t complainin’ ‘bout those fruit trees out back.

Life is Better with Good Fruit

Whether you’re an avid fruit grower with orchards in your backyard, or whether you’re just getting started and want to learn more about getting your first few cherry trees, you’ve found the right place. We're here to answer your most common questions when it comes to getting started with your first few fruit trees. 

The fastest and best method for getting healthy, fruit-producing trees in your backyard is the bare-root planting method. You’ll be on your way to picking delicious fresh fruit out of your backyard in no time.

Start With a Good Nursery

Our nursery at Mountain Feed is always stocked with the best edible and ornamental plants, veggie starts, trees, and shrubs. This time of year we have hundreds of bare-root plants and fruit trees in stock. 

What are Bare-Root Fruit Trees?

Bare-root nursery stock are trees and plants that are...

  • Field grown for one to three years
  • Undercut and dug in fall and spring
  • Handled with no soil left around the roots
  • Stored with moist roots and dormant tops until they are planted

Why the Bare-Root Method? What Are the Benefits?

Bare-root stock offers several advantages…

  • Bare-root plants are usually one-half to two-thirds the cost of plants in containers
  • Longer root lengths are possible on bare-root plants because the weight of the root ball without soil is minimal
  • Planting a bare-root fruit tree is one of the easiest ways to add a permanent, food-producing plant into your garden

De-Mystifying the Bare-Root Process - Common Questions

Bare-root stock planting can be unfamiliar to the home gardener, swaying some away from giving it a go. What most people don’t know is that planting a bare-root fruit tree is one of the easiest ways to add a permanent, food-producing plant into your garden. Here are the most commonly asked questions we get about bare-root tree selection, planting and care.

1) How do I choose a bare-root tree?

One of the first things I ask a customer when they come in to buy a bare-root tree or plant is “What kind of fruit do you enjoy eating?”. It’s really up to you and what you prefer! In ideal conditions, you will get a bumper crop (an excessive amount) of fruit from your tree and you will want to get the most out of all that delicious fruit by making jam or preserves.

2) What are the requirements for my yard and planting space? Does it affect the kind of trees should I get?

Once you determine what type of fruit you want to grow you will need to consider the conditions, yard, and weather in your area. Do you have especially wet soil during the Winter and Spring months? How many hours of sunlight does your planting space get per day? You'll want to make your decision with those factors in mind. 

Also, most fruit trees we sell are self-pollinating. But you may need to buy more than one tree to get fruit setting with several varieties. Make sure to check the label. 

The rootstock you choose will always depend on your growing conditions and individual needs. Perhaps you are limited on space and would do well with a Dwarf variety meant to be grown in pots or smaller areas. It is always best to consult your nursery on your individual situation so they guide you in your choice.

3) When is the best time to plant my bare-root tree?

The best time to plant a bare-root fruit tree is January-March while the plant is still in its dormant stage. Good nurseries will only have bare-root stock available during this time. That’s a good indicator that it is time to plant! 

Bare-root trees need to be planted before they start “waking up”. You want your tree to start developing its new permanent roots in its permanent home. Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums, and cherries are going to start waking up first so they are best put in the ground earlier. Fruit trees like pears and apples start waking up later so you can wait a bit longer to plant those varieties.

4) How do I plant my bare-root tree?

Planting a bare-root tree is simple. Select the site you want to plant the tree and dig a hole 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep, or as deep as your trees root systems’ height. Keep organic matter that you dig up separate from dirt you are digging out of your hole. 

Place the dirt to the side to be used for filling in the hole later keeping your sub-soil separate from your top-soil. Then place your tree in the hole and move backward filling in the hole with the sub-soil first then topsoil, tamping it down to remove any air pockets and water it well. 

Lastly, adding a layer of compost and mulch will give your tree a good start and keep weeds at bay. Mulch around the base of the tree giving the trunk some space to breathe. Mulching directly up against the trunk of your tree can cause more harm than good. 

Your tree should not require another watering until its leaves start to appear in the Spring. 

5) When Should I Be Pruning my Fruit Tree?

Another part of the planting process that is often skipped is pruning. Once your tree is in the ground you will need to prune the branches considerably. The size of your tree's canopy should mirror the root system. A new bare-root tree has a small root system so you should prune the trunk and branches by about half to ensure its stability in the ground.

6) How do I maintain my bare-root tree as it matures?

A young fruit tree needs at least a gallon of water per week once its foliage starts to appear in the Spring. Regular watering is important for the first two seasons of growth. Pruning in winter is essential in helping keep your tree healthy during its dormant season. 

Also during the dormant season, a regimen of Dormant Oil Spray applications is a good way to help your tree stay disease-free through the winter. Consider regular mulching to keep weeds and pests away from your tree’s young trunk and apply compost or beneficial microbes to build the soil your tree is living in.

Each species of fruit tree can have its own special needs. As always, consult your nursery when planting a new bare-root tree to get the most out of your new planting. There is a lot of information out there on maintenance, planting and choosing a tree. Consider taking a class or reading a book on fruit trees to get detailed information on keeping your tree healthy.

Let’s Get You Started - You’ll Be Snacking on Fresh Fruit in No Time!

Are you ready to get started with your first backyard fruit trees? Or maybe your dream is to have an entire orchard with a variety of trees producing throughout the year or even just expand the varietals that you’ve already got growing out back.

Cherries, apples, pears, plums and more… hmmm.

Luckily you’ve found yourself in the right place. Here at Mountain Feed, we strive to offer the best products, resources, and education across the board for homesteaders like you. So here are a couple of resources you can check out to keep heading in the right direction… 

Check out our nursery page to learn more about what we offer. Wondering what to do with all your fruit once it’s popping off the branches? Check out our water bath canning or homemade applesauce video workshops. Over to You...

It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.

Keeping a great journal leads to delicious results (and healthy trees!). Get inspired by new recipes, expert articles and more homemade food adventures in our Monthly Journal.