Now is the time to plant bare-root trees and bushes

SEEDLING SELECTIONS: Plant shoppers can choose from popular fruit and berry varieties at the Buncombe Soil & Water Conservation District's annual plant sale. Purchases support educational programs on conservation for area youths. Photo by Gary Higgins

At most nurseries, trees and berries sit lined up in pots, ready to be taken home and transplanted; their root balls in soil await a gentle loosening out of the round or square shapes they’ve taken on. But there are benefits to buying bare-root seedlings and plants — that is, those out of containers with their roots exposed.

To begin with, they’re often cheaper, shares Taira Lance, an environmental educator and soil conservationist with the Buncombe County Soil & Water Conservation District. Why? Suppliers can ship them more easily to sellers and offer price breaks that get passed down to the consumer. The Buncombe SWCD will host its bare-root tree seedling and plant sale Thursday and Friday, March 1 and 2, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. each day (or until the plants are sold out); find more details below.

But beyond price, Lance notes that these plants are grown in the field in natural soils and, thus, often have a larger root mass than some of their containerized counterparts, which are grown in sterile potting mix and possibly cooped up for a long time. Bare-root trees and plants, Lance says, “are typically very healthy and usually take off faster.”

And the time to get them in the ground is upon us: ideally in March, before they start leafing out. “They are pulled in the field during dormancy in late winter to be ready for spring planting,” Lance explains. “The planting window is fairly narrow, and they need to be planted as soon as possible and the roots kept moist.”

Aside from getting them in the ground quickly with some water, there’s not much else to it, she says. Just dig a hole that will fit the size of the root mass and sit back and wait for the tree or bush to grow (the hardest part of the process).

Lance does, however, suggest being familiar with your soil before you plant. Too dry or too wet could be a problem for some varieties, as could soils with a high clay content — it doesn’t drain well and often breeds disease. Knowing if your yard gets enough sun or is mostly shaded is also key in selecting which trees and plants are right for your garden. Keep space in mind, too, because some grow significantly over their lifespan.

On offer at the SWCD sale: dogwood, persimmon, pear, fig, apple and other trees, along with blackberry, blueberry, raspberry and strawberry plants. All proceeds benefit the agency’s environmental education programs for area students in kindergarten through college.

If you go

What: Buncombe SWCD’s 37th annual Tree Seedling and Plant Sale
When: Thursday and Friday, March 1- 2, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., or until sold out
Where: 49 Mount Carmel Road, Asheville
Details: Seedlings and plants range from 50 cents to $8 each, and proceeds benefit the agency’s educational programming. Learn more at or call 828-250-4785.


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About Maggie Cramer
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