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’Tis the season to bare it all

Whether your bare root roses, berries or trees come in bags or buckets now is the time to plant

Posted: January 30, 2009 8:12 p.m.
Updated: January 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.

This five-graft peach will produce different peaches.

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It wasn't long ago these pages extolled the virtues of planting fruit trees and roses that were already rooted, as opposed to true bare root planting. All of that still applies.

However, if you do things right, you can be successful in planting bare roots, and the low cost and wide availability of these plants at nurseries in the SCV makes purchasing them hard to resist.

Additionally, you can purchase potted "bare roots," which may be the best of both worlds. What do we mean by that?

Sandy Cudmore, an advanced certified nurseryman at Green Thumb International in Newhall, explained.

She said you can purchase traditional bare roots, such as roses and grapes, at Green Thumb. With these, the plant's bare roots and their moisture-retaining packing material come enclosed in a polymer bag, as bare root plants usually do.

Alternatively, you can purchase roses already planted in paper fiber pots. With these you plant the pots in the ground and never have to expose the roots.

And lastly, Green Thumb has a variety of plants, especially young fruit trees, that were bare root when they arrived at the nursery, but were quickly transplanted into plastic pots. You take off the pots when you plant these, but still won't re-expose the recently-bare roots again.

With any of these types of bare roots, economy plays a big part in their purchase. With the fiber pots you have added convenience. But Cudmore offered one more incentive when purchasing bare roots over leafed-out plants: "Bare roots are less likely to go into shock when transplanted," she said.

Fruit trees
The forest of young fruit trees now at Green Thumb represents a variety of different types of fruit and genetically sized plants. One thing they all have in common is that they are planted in five-gallon plastic pots.

"They come in truly bare root," Cudmore said. "So that they don't dry out, we first bury them in a big mound of soil, then, as quickly as we can, put them in pots with just the right soil mixture." That happened in the first week of January, so the trees are accustomed to their pots now. "Some are already starting to have little buds," she said. "You can see they're alive."

The folks at Green Thumb try to purchase fruit trees (and other plants) that are suited to the SCV climate. "We like to carry a good balance of fruit that matches the chilling requirement we have in this valley," Cudmore said. Since we get 400 to 450 hours of chilling (below 45°F) each year, the nursery selects trees that require no more than that to bear fruit.

"Most of these trees can be kept (pruned) as low as 10 feet, making them a good size for a backyard," she added.

There are also fruit trees that are "trained" to be low branching, so people can pick their fruit easily.

"We have miniatures and genetic dwarfs and even some trees that you can grow in a pot on a sunny balcony," Cudmore said. These are perfect for those who live in apartments and condos.

"I think people are wanting to grow more and more edible things," she said.

Green Thumb International has just about every kind of fruit tree available. Single trees are $19.99 (except persimmons, which are $29.99). There are also multi-graft trees. On a multi-graft apple tree, for example, each graft will bear apples that ripen at a different time from the other grafts. In that way your fruit ripens in a manageable way, over a longer period.

Four graft trees are $49.99 and five graft trees $59.99.

Berries and asparagus
Other food plants that were bare root and are now in pots at Green Thumb include various types of berries, including blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries and raspberries. "One of my favorites for growing here are blueberries," Cudmore said. A SharpBlue blueberry plant in a pot goes for $11.99. There are also potted asparagus plants. While these don't look like much now, Cudmore said, "Bare root asparagus is a very attractive plant that grows for about 10 years."

Roses and grapes
As mentioned, Green Thumb's roses come in bags and in paper fiber pots. Climbing roses in fiber pots go for $11.99. Jackson & Perkins premium grade bare root roses in a bag are $16.99. Double Delight roses in fiber pots are $8.97.

If you want to try something different, go for the Nature's Pride bare root grapes at $6.99. Thompson Seedless and Flame Seedless varieties are available.

Planting and watering
With some minor variation, the planting techniques are the same for most of these plants.

Cudmore said most fruit trees do better if they are planted on a slight mound. "Dig a hole half as deep as the pot, but way wider. You want the crown of the tree to be above your normal soil level," she said. Then smooth the soil down from there in a wide mound. "This prevents water from puddling around the crown of the tree and other dirt from working in around it," she said.

Cudmore said to mix a small amount of amendments with your native soil when refilling your hole. It's better in the long run because the roots become more acclimated to the native soil and more likely to spread out into it.

"It never hurts to plant them in a gopher cage," Cudmore said. This is a wire mesh basked that protects the young tree's roots from damage caused by gophers.

Plant your fruit trees in a sunny location where they can be watered deeply and less frequently than the lawn. "Fruit trees don't do well planted in a lawn," she said. "It's the biggest problem people have if their tree is not producing well or looking well.

When planting roses in fiber pots, Cudmore said to make slashes in the sides of the pots, then set them down in the soil with the rim of the pot sticking up above the level of the soil - so that the level of the soil outside is level with the soil inside.

With bare root roses in bags, first remove the bag and shake off the packing material. Put the roots in a bucket of water. You might include a tablespoon of bleach in the bucket of water to help disinfect the roots. "Soak a few hours to overnight," Cudmore said.

When you plant these roses, make sure the bud union (where the canes come out) is two inches above the soil level. There's no need to mound the soil with roses.

Cudmore said roses usually need at least five hours of sun each day, though some can do with less.

"With anything you plant, it needs to be thoroughly saturated with water right after planting," Cudmore said. "And I recommend you water a second time using Super Thrive, which is a rooting hormone. It really gets plants off to a great start."

So stop into your local nursery for your planting needs now. Whether it's bare root, bare root in a pot or already rooted, now is a good time to get a jump on the summer heat.

Green Thumb International, 23734 San Fernando Road in Newhall. (661) 259-1072.

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