My friend Darby called me on her cell phone the other day with a shopping alert. She was at a discount store selling boxes of bare root perennials at bargain prices and wanted to know how many I wanted. She was shocked when I told her I would pass on this bargain.
Plants at rock bottom prices are not a value if they fail to grow and thrive and the problems with bare root plants often arise when you get them home. They have a relatively short shelf life once they are taken from cold storage and boxed up, so they need to be planted ASAP.
I told Darby how I cornered the market on bare root plants a couple of years ago and the experiment was a disaster. I had neither the time nor the space to care for the plants until the weather warmed enough to plant them in the garden.
Each box contained 6 bare roots – a real bargain for under $10. I grabbed an armload. Most of the roots were too large to fit into the small pots I had on hand so I resorted to planting them in 10 oz foam coffee cups and stuck them under lights in the basement where it was cool. To make sure the plants got off to a good start the roots needed to be soaked several hours before planting. And planting took forever so by the time I finished I wished I had never seen a bare root plant. To make matters worse I had no room under my lights to start my seeds.
Why not grow them in your conservatory Darby asked? Most home green houses and conservatories lack the automatic venting needed to prevent temperatures from rising when the sun shines. On a sunny day the temperature in my conservatory can shoot into the 90’s spelling death to bare root plants that have yet to develop good root systems. Bare root plantings are grown in cool greenhouses.
Walter’s Gardens of Zeeland Michigan one of the largest wholesalers of bare root plants tells their growers to promote root growth, newly planted bare roots should be kept between 48 to 55 degrees F for 10 to 14 days after potting and then increase the temperature to 55 to 60 degrees. Nighttime temps should be maintained at 45 to 50 degrees F. Heat will accelerate the green growth and you want the roots development first.
I found florescent lights worked well at first but once the plants started putting on leaves they needed more light so at that point I put the perennials under professional grow lights. These high intensity lights make that wheel in the Edison box sing and my electric bill took a big jump.
When planting in spring, perennials shouldn’t be exposed to freezing weather so I explained to Darby she would have to tend those babies until the nights are frost-free and then be prepared to cover them if frost threatens.
Before planting out doors the plants need to be hardened off which means they will have to be carted in and out-of-doors for a week or more.
At some point the plants may need to be transplanted into gallon pots. Plants that stay in small containers too long become pot bound, which stresses them and they often need to be watered twice a day.
“Are you telling me not to buy bare root plants?” Darby moaned. No kiddo, I just want you to be aware of how much time and space it takes to grow them successfully so you don’t waste your money and end up with a bunch of dead plants, I answered. I suggested she start with box of easy to grow bare root day lilies or hostas and see how it goes.
I also reminded Darby bare root plants sporting green leaves have broken dormancy. They’re poor buys because the plants don’t have a root system to support that new growth and they have to use their stored reserves. While they may live through the summer many eventually run out gas and fail to survive the winter.
Roses and shrubs purchased from mail order houses that arrive bare root are not such a problem. They can and should be planted outdoors as soon as possible. However, if that’s not possible, for a short period of time they can be kept in a garage or stored along the north side of the house until planted. Dormant bare root roses can withstand freeze as low as 28-degree says Nancy Lindley, author of Roses for Michigan.
When the plants arrive be sure check the packing to make sure it is moist and mist both the bark and the roots if they look at all dry. Leave the packing in place and wrap the plants loosely in wet burlap, damp sheets or thick sheets of wet newspaper to keep them moist until they can be planted.
I’ll check in with Darby in a few weeks to see how much trouble she is in. Hopefully, she took my advice and started slow.