Ordering Bareroot Trees: What to Expect{18}

Mail-Order Trees: Who Would Have Thunk?

Belle de Boskoop apple tree

Belle de Boskoop apple tree: first came to me years ago, dormant in a shipping box—no leaves, no fruit, but very much alive and ready to plant.

Ordering bareroot trees is to Tom as ordering books is to Oprah. I love trees, especially unusual fruit trees, sometimes forgotten heritage varieties, and other times crazy new crosses that put the best of each parent tree into the traits of the offspring.

When my first mail-order catalogs arrive, I spend many an early hour at my kitchen table poring over their pages of glossy growing inspiration, while the rains and chill persist outside. In this post, I simply want to show you what to expect when ordering bareroot trees through the mail. And perhaps it’s best to begin with an explanation of a bareroot tree.

What Is a Barerooot Tree?

Trees arrive in tall narrow boxes (middle trees removed from box).

A bareroot tree is a dormant, field-grown tree, that is uprooted with farm equipment in late fall or winter, then cold-stored, transported and replanted in a new place, a permanent home so to speak. Here are couple fine videos to further elucidate the process:  short overview or from start to finish.

The bareroot trees arrive bundled tightly, pruned for shipment, and protected from dehydration with plastic bags usually filled with wet wood shavings or newspaper shreds. (Orders left to right: Burnt Ridge Nursery, Trees of Antiquity, and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.)

bundle bareroot trees

Six trees ready to be freed from the box.

Left to right: small Haralson apple tree, larger specimen, and young grape vine start.

The roots are usually well-developed and trunks sturdy, though in some cases you may buy younger trees that require more attention until established, as roots may dry out more quickly and small trunks are more susceptible to critter damage.

Beautiful Mirabelle plum tree, roots packed in wet newspaper and ready to plant.

To protect the trees from dehydration during shipping, nurseries cover the bare roots with a moist medium like wood shavings or newspaper. The roots are then secured in a plastic bag for transport and boxed for the long haul to your home.

Rubba-dub-dub twelve trees in a tub, or resting winter fountain as the case may be.

Since dehydration is my biggest concern when receiving bareroot trees. I usually soak the the tree roots for several hours in clean water to allow for reabsorption back into the tree through the roots. Dave Wilson Nursery, one of the nation’s largest fruit tree wholesale growers, recommends soaking the roots overnight, but not over 24 hours.

Draining excess water from the garbage cans.

If I can’t plant the tree immediately, I store them in clean garbage cans filled with wet wood shavings covering the roots. With sawdust and trees in place, I fill the garbage cans with water, and let them sit for about 15 minutes. Then, I’ll tip over the can and drain all of the standing water. The shavings and roots remain hydrated, while the tree roots avoid standing water (not a good thing for roots).

Back in the upright (and locked) position, the trees will be fine for a few days until planting time, but the sooner the better. I keep mine in the barn, and out of any freezing temperatures, which can damage the roots in this holding pattern.

Why Order a Bareroot Tree?

You may be wondering why don’t I just go to a nursery and pick up a potted tree to plant? Good question, and one I shall address in the following list of pros for this choice of orchard planting.

  1. Greater Variety: the number one reason for me is choice; online nurseries offer hundreds of bareroot tree varieties not found in local nurseries.
  2.  Lower Cost: In most cases, you can plant more trees at a lower cost. For instance, I paid around $19 at Peaceful Valley Farms and Burnt Ridge Nursery for healthy trees that would have retailed for close to double if I could have even found them potted at my local nursery. Trees of Antiquity bareroot trees usually run around $38, and while costing more, they are quality all the way, and offer some very-hard-to-find varieties.
  3. Robust Root Structure: Research shows (though it seems counterintuitive) that bareroot trees have more roots than potted trees and that small caliper trunks may encourage more robust growth in a young tree. (Bigger is not always better in the orchard.)
  4. Better Control of Plant Depth: Because you can see the entire trunk, root structure and graft, I find it much easier to plant the tree at the correct depth which is where the trunk flares out a bit above the roots.

So my fresh-fruit aficionados, let me leave you with some bareroot fruit tree links for your perusal and further investigation:

bulldog buddy loves apples

Apparently Buddy is not about to share “his” Jonagold apples.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Chinese Proverb

This photo collage showcases the fruits of my labor, from top moving clockwise: Mirabelle plums, Yellow Egg plums, Melrose apples, Orcas pear, Nanaimo peach, Desert King fig, Stella sweet cherries. And I’m equally proud that I have never sprayed my orchard with pesticides of any kind, which for me makes the fruit taste even sweeter.

Fruit Tree Update

I’ve had several readers ask me, “So what did you order?” Good question, and I’ll list them here with links to each nursery.  Oh, and one more thing, when ordering bareroot, it’s common for trees to look a little underwhelming because they’re dormant and small and sometimes spindly; but fear not, once in the ground, they will take off with ample watering, sun and your regard for their well-being.

Burnt Ridge Nursery (Washington state mail-order nursery)

  • Montrose Apricot
  • Haralson Apple
  • Wealthy Apple
  • Portugal Quince
  • Jupiter Grape

Peaceful Valley Nursery

  • Sierra Beauty Apple
  • Sweet Treat Pluerry
  • Cox’s Orange Pippin Apple
  • Flavor King Pluot
  • Pixie Cot Apricot


Trees of Antiquity (California mail-order nursery)

  • Peregrine Peach
  • Mirabelle Plum (France 1790)
  • Reine Claude d’Ollins Plum (France 1856)
  • Burbank Plumcot
  • Bramley Seedling Apple (England 1809)