SANS (fr.) / SIN (sp.) SOIL

Clarabel And Abbe Fetel

The UPS guy delivered two large, long boxes last week. Laid out in each box as in a coffin was what looked like a sturdy, 4-foot long stick. You wouldn’t think that either stick, one labelled Clarabel quince and the other labelled Abbe Fetal pear, could ever become a tree, could ever even come to life! Unpacking, then holding one of the sticks up, its bare roots dangling in the air, I had my doubts about the plant’s viability, even though I’ve planted many bare root trees over many years.

Bare root tree soaking

Bare root tree soaking

Bare root trees are grown at a nursery and, sometime between fall and spring while still leafless and dormant, are dug up, their roots shaken free of soil, and shipped. Before shipping a tree, a good nursery will  tuck moist sphagnum moss, shredded newspaper, or other water retaining material in among the roots, then swaddle the  roots and moist packaging all in plastic.

Some loss of large roots is unavoidable when digging a bare root tree.  Less obvious is loss of tender root hairs. And roots don’t ever like being out of the soil. So why didn’t I just order a potted tree, which hardly need know that it’s been moved, rather than a bare root tree?

The main reason for buying a bare root Claribel quince or Abbe Fetel is because there’s not much chance of finding a potted one locally or, probably, anywhere. Bare root trees and shrubs are cheaper to buy and cheaper to mail than potted trees and shrubs, and are available in much greater variety.

Treated well, growth of bare root trees and shrubs will match that of their potted counterparts. Good treatment doesn’t end at the nursery. Soon after unpacking Claribel and Abbe Fetel, their roots were in a bucket of water, to soak for a few hours. Planting holes were dug just deep enough to set each tree at the same depth as at the nursery (as evidenced by the soil line on the trunk) and twice as wide as the spread of the roots. Abbe Fetal had a couple of straggly roots; I clipped them back to the same length as the other roots.

Holding a tree in place with one hand, I sifted soil back in among the spread roots in the planting hole, working the soil in amongst roots by poking with my fingers and occasionally bouncing the plant up and down slightly. After planting, a thorough watering further settled soil in amongst the roots. An icing of mulch — I used wood chips — and the plant, still looking like nothing more than a stick, was ready to go, as far as I was concerned.

Daphne . . . Alive

Last year I bought a potted Daphne bush at a local garden center. As I tipped the plant out of the pot to nestle into its waiting planting hole, all the potting soil fell away from the roots.Daphne in bloom

It’s not uncommon for a garden center to buy in bare root trees and shrubs, just as I did with Clarabel and Abbe Fetal, then pot them up for sale. Roots in some soil are ready to take in nutrients and water as soon as when warm weather coaxes out new leaves and shoots. Some weeks must pass before the roots actually grow out into the potting soil, though.

The Daphne was leafed out but hardly rooted when I tipped it out of the pot, making it again bare root. I had doubts about its survival. But it did survive. Still, it was an expensive bare-root plant.

Annuals In Cells

A hundred or so years ago, even tender, annual vegetable transplants were re-located to their new homes bare root. Tomatoes would be grown in cold-frames, hot beds, or greenhouses, then gingerly lifted free of the soil. Kept out of the sun and with their roots moist in a bucket of water, the plants were moved to the field or garden and planted, preferably on an overcast day. If the day was dry and sunny, a cedar shingle might be shoved into the ground to shade the plant for a day or two.

Transplant in Orto pot

Transplant in Orto pot

These days, as you know, vegetable transplants come in plastic cell packs, each plant in its own mini-pot. For tender, small annual plants, potted is much better than bare-root.

Clarabel Has Risen

Resurrection! Only a few days after planting Clarabel and Abbe Fetel, and, like magic, green buds have swollen along the once dead-looking stems.Clarabel starting to grow

4 replies
  1. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Very uplifting! I order a lot of bare root plants. Only one in all of my orders has not made it and I believe it’s because its stock was from NC and didn’t quite take to our climate, not because it was bare root. It’s fun to receive plants in the mail! I love quince and do not have one so look forward to seeing yours grow.

  2. Jim
    Jim says:

    Hey Lee,

    I was wondering what your plan is for spraying your trees. Do you use Surround on all the fruit trees and do you hope it controls plum curculio and other pests? This was my first year using Surround and it seems some insects still got to some of my peaches. I also sprayed Spinosad because I had a problem with what I thought was Oriental Fruit Moth last year.

    I love this blog and it keeps me inspired to keep trying. I now have two peaches, three apples, two pears, two Asian pears, two paw paws, two plums, an Asian persimmon, and a jujube. I’m better at it this year than last year! Thanks for all the info.

    • Lee Reich
      Lee Reich says:

      Surround is effective against plum curculio but you have to spray a lot of it: 3 sprays before bloom to build up a good powdery coating, then every 7-10 days post bloom unless it rains 1/4″ or more. You have to maintain that powdery coating on the trees. They’ll look white — very Mediterranean. Where I am, the plum curculio sprays can stop by about the third week in June. I then hang traps for apple maggot.

  3. Leslee
    Leslee says:

    Bare roots are great. I started my Zestar and Williams Pride apple trees bare root from Rain tree Nursery in Washington. This is their fourth year espaliered and they are producing beautifully.


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