Mail-Order Trees: Who Would Have Thunk?
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?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Greater Variety: the number one reason for me is choice; online nurseries offer hundreds of bareroot tree varieties not found in local nurseries.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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:
- How to Plant a Bareroot Fruit Tree
- My Source List of Fruit Tree Nurseries
- Some of My Favorite Apple Trees (the list grows and changes each year)
- Why Varieties Matter
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
- 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)
I love Heirloom roses for their own root, bare root stick. They arrive looking like spindly twigs and in one year look more robust than potted varieties. Nice article , Tom.
Agreed, I have quite a few now in pots that need to go in the ground, and I won’t tell you how long I’ve had them in pots, Jan.
My Nanaimo peach came today! Right this minute, though, I am at Burnt Ridge Nursery picking up 11 bare root trees i ordered in December.
Way to go, keep me posted on your orchard!
As always, I am fast in the grip of serious orchard envy! I’m planning on selling my house sooner rather than later, and so am not investing in building an orchard of my own yet. But at least I live just south of an amazing fruit belt, extending through the counties along the southern edge of Lake Ontario. (And should you ever find yourself in this part of the world, definitely make a farm stand eating tour.)
Anne, that sounds like my kind of field trip. I would love to also check out great state and provincial fairs and eat my way through each region’s food specialities and fresh produce! Here’s to your future home and orchard!
Thank you so much for all information Tom. It helps me a lot for starting my orchard. Best regards
Vincent from Mountlake Terrace WA.
Good Luck Vincent, it’s a fun project to start and enjoy year after year.
Tom, thank you for this excellent and informative post; the photos add so much clarity in how to proceed. Buddy looks pretty serious about guarding his Jonagolds. The Chinese proverb is wonderful; it could apply to so many things, couldn’t it?
So true Stephanie, that proverb is one I try to follow, despite my lean toward procrastination.
My plan last fall, was to buy nursery espalier apple trees this spring. We’ll see if I follow through with that… Have never tried fruit trees in Minnesota.
Make sure you buy from a reputable nursery, that has a track record in selling fruit trees. They should know the right varieties for your climate. Here’s some good info from the UofM: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/fruit/apples-for-minnesota-and-their-culinary-uses/
As always, Tom, an immensely readable and informative post. I have a Kiwi vine that I bought a couple of years ago. It survived our terrible winter and came back last year, although it didn’t produce any fruit. The Kiwi variety I planted bears fruit the size of a grape, that doesn’t have to be peeled. How long do you think I need to be patient before I’m rewarded with some fruit? Gracie says hi to Buddy.
Hi Sandra, Kiwi vines take their own sweet time to produce. My fuzzy kiwi was planted years ago and only started producing after about ten years. The good news is the small grape type usually produce a year or two after planting. Now the bad news: kiwis are dioecious plants, that is you need two gender specific kiwis to produce fruit, a male and a female blossom/plant. This is not common in the plant world, but you need to determine if you have a male or female blossom, and plant the opposite to get kiwi fruits. Good luck! Here’s a link to a photo that distinguishes the two sexes, florally speaking. 😉 http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Do_you_need_a_male_hardy_kiwi_to_produce_fruit__63__/
researching fruit varieties before buying is outstandingly fun for me. You’ve got some real winners on your list, I’m happy to see the Flavor King Pluot, that is among the finest fruits I’ve ever tasted (and Ive eaten a LOT of fruit). Now, if the best time to plant a fruit tree was 20 years ago, wouldn’t the second best time have been 19 years ago? Or, even better, 19 years and 364 days? lol I appreciate the proverbs sentiment, of course. Nice to see another post so soon, I imagine all the rain is keeping you inside and in a writing mood. I did enjoy your last post very much as well! See ya 🙂
Great to hear from you Forrest, and I love your keen insight and good humor as I, too, joked about the precept of the best time to plant a tree; pretty much any year prior to the one I’m in. 😉 I’m excited to hear of your experience with Flavor King Pluot. Great to hear. We’ve had so much rain, I’ve been in a holding pattern for planting; any attempt produces a muddy pothole disinclined to drain. Buddy sits under the covered porch and just shakes his head. I love Pacific Northwest rain, but this year is one for the record books and this guy’s disbelief. Well wishes.
Het Tom! My husband and I are moving to the glen acres area of vashon in a bit. Will the pluot set and ripen there? Thanks in advance! love your blog!
Hi Douglas, Welcome to Vashon! As for the pluot setting and ripening, you’ll need to give it maximum sun, since Glen Acres is on the east side of the island and may have some tricky shadows to pay attention to. Pollination is a big problem as they bloom early when few pollinators are out and incessant rains further thwart pollination. I’m encouraged by my first planting of pluots, Flavor Grenade, though I removed the fruit last year to strengthen the tree; it’s still quite young. I’ll keep you posted, feel free to inquire down the road or touch base any time you like.
Hello. I’m reserving a spot for one (yes, it’s an urban lot in Seattle) peach treein my yard. In your discussion of bareroot trees and your peach tree warnings about ‘Frost’, I did not find any mention of which nursery carried the ‘Nanaimo’ peach. Can you share? Thank you for your knowledge.
Hi Wendy, I believe onegreenworld.com has it in stock when it has bareroot trees in inventory.