B. Rosie Lerner
Extension Consumer Horticulturist
Temporary Shelter for Bare-Root Landscape Plants
New landscape plants are best planted as soon as possible after they arrive, but gardeners often need to delay planting due to early shipping, weather delays or simply lack of time in busy schedules. So gardeners may need temporary shelter for holding the plants until proper planting can be arranged.
When plants first arrive, open the packing material to check on plant condition. Dormant plants are typically shipped bare-root (without soil) this time of year. However, the roots are typically packed with moistened peat moss, newspaper or other material that protects the roots from drying out.
Even though the weather may still be fluctuating above and below freezing this time of year, it is best to get the plants in their garden location as soon as soil conditions permit. To hold bare-root plants for up to a week or so, keep the roots moist and store them in a cool location out of direct sun. The goal is to keep them dormant until planting time.
But, if you find planting must be delayed for more than a week, a temporary planting called "heeling-in" will likely provide the best storage. Dig a trench in a lightly shaded area away from the garden, yet close enough to the house to be able to check on the plants' condition frequently. Make the trench wider at the top than the bottom (in a v-shape), wide and deep enough to easily accommodate the size of the roots. Line the trench with straw or mulch, and set the plants at an angle with tops above the trench. Cover the roots with loose, well-draining media, such as potting soil or garden soil mixed with peat moss. Top off with additional straw or mulch. Water the plants as needed to keep the soil in the trench moist, but not wet.
When ready for planting, carefully dig the plants from the trench to avoid breaking roots. Shake off the trench soil mix, and then soak the roots for 20-30 minutes to be sure they are fully hydrated before planting.
Remember that heeling-in is meant to be short-term storage for dormant plants. Transfer the plants to their permanent location as soon as possible to get roots established.
March 20, 2008