Bare root plant

Plant rescue

Plantsman Geoff Hodge offers some wise words about winter planting, plant rescue and dormant plants.

It may be cold and miserable looking outside, but that shouldn’t stop you getting on with some winter planting. It’s a good time to take advantage of plant bargains, bare root plants and online clearances to fill your garden.

Nursery clearance

Visiting garden centres and nurseries is a fun and worthwhile thing to do in winter. Many will be selling off old stock cheaply to make room for the new year’s plants. These are worth getting your hands on – they’re more-than-likely okay, they just don’t look as good on the sales bench.

But check over the plants carefully and make sure they’re alive and worth buying first before getting out your wallet or purse. Even a cheap plant that’s dead isn’t worth splashing out on. See below.

No, it’s not dead!

dormant perennial plant

In winter, it can be easy to think that the plant you’re staring at looks dead. While evergreen shrubs and perennials will have a covering of leaves, deciduous shrubs will have dropped their leaves in autumn and may only look like a dead stick, and pots of deciduous perennials look like they only contain compost! Although some types will have dormant buds at compost level.

If you want to check whether a shrub or other woody plant is alive, carefully lift a small piece of bark at the top of the stem with your thumbnail; if it’s green underneath, then it’s alive. If it isn’t green, then that part is probably dead, so try again a few inches lower down. Obviously, if you reach the roots without uncovering any green, then it is dead!

For plants in pots, turn them upside down, squeeze the pot and carefully remove it; you’re looking for lots of strong, healthy white roots.

Winter Planting

All hardy trees, shrubs, climbers, roses, herbaceous perennials and hedges can be planted during winter. The only thing that will stop you is if the soil is frozen to the depth of the plant’s rootball or waterlogged.

In fact, winter is a great time to get on with some planting. The roots will establish while the rest of the plant is dormant, and it will burst into leafy growth when the warmer weather arrives. And thanks to those couple of months of root growth and establishment, the plants will perform better than those planted later in the year.

Another brilliant advantage of winter planting is that you can buy bare-root plants, which will be miles cheaper than pot-grown ones. Bare-root plants are grown in the ground, developing a great, strong root system, then dug up ready for dispatch. That means you’re not paying for a pot, the compost, the time taken to look after, water and the care of a pot-grown plant and also the extra weight adding to delivery costs. While hardy container-grown plants can be planted all year round (although autumn to spring is best), bare-root ones have to be planted while they’re dormant (late autumn to very early spring).

Bare root rose plant
Bare-root plants are grown and then dug up from the ground so they have already developed a strong root system.

The root of all happiness

As you’ll have guessed by my last rant, getting plants established quickly and getting their roots growing into the soil is vital for the success and performance of your plants; while plants are establishing, the roots are the most important part of the plant. Sadly, some people are only interested in the green bit above ground level, not the roots growing in the brown stuff! If the roots are the most important plant part, then the soil is the most important part of your garden.

If you’re blessed with a lovely, loamy topsoil, then you have little to worry about. But those of us battling with a heavy, clay soil or have a thin, sandy or very chalky or stony soil, will need to do something about it to get the best from their plants. That’s where a bulky organic soil improver or planting compost is your best friend. Dig in lots into the soil before planting, use more mixed into the soil dug out of the planting hole, and your plants will love you forever.

To make the roots grow even stronger, adding a specific root-promoting feed at planting time will produce even more roots and so even bigger, better plants! Richard’s Root Booster is specifically designed for this and will give all your new plants a boost and a great start to life. It contains three special ingredients to encourage root development, is 100% natural and one application works for the lifetime of the plant.

Planting bare-root

If you indulge yourself and buy lots of bare-root plants over winter, they do need a little TLC before planting.

  • When they arrive or you get them home, remove any plastic wrapping from around the roots.
  • Ideally, plant them the same day.
  • If you can’t plant straight away, plunge the roots in buckets of moist compost or cover them with garden soil.
  • Before planting, stand the roots in a bucket of water for 15-20 minutes to ensure they’re fully charged with water. You should do this with all plants – even pot-grown ones.
  • Plant at the same depth they were originally growing; woody plants will have the original soil mark on the stems.
Planting a bare-root plant

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