The Bare Essentials: Bare-Rooted Fruit Trees


The unseasonably warm autumn could mean tree nurseries have to delay lifting this season’s bare-rooted fruit trees until the end of the month. Even so, if you are planning to plant a new orchard or just a single, specimen tree in your garden, now is the time  to get your order in with a reputable tree nursery before stocks run out. Garden centres will have a limited selection of bare-rooted trees, but for a wider choice of varieties, sizes and rootstocks, specialist tree nurseries are the route to go. 

The window for purchasing and planting bare-rooted trees is quite narrow – usually November to March depending on the weather conditions and where you live. Most bare-rooted trees will be supplied as one or two-year old maidens.  The fruit tree will have been grafted on to the rootstock and then grown on in an open field for a year or two before being lifted.

When you buy them they look unremarkable – little more than a stick with a mass of exposed roots.  Despite their unprepossessing appearance, bare-rooted trees tend to establish better than those grown in containers.  Planting in winter gives the tree an opportunity to develop a good, healthy root system.  In the spring when growth starts bare-rooted trees have fewer branches and leaves to support and can therefore concentrate its energies into producing a strong, vigorous tree.

Bare-rooted trees should only be planted when dormant and into ground that isn’t frozen or waterlogged.  A local nursery should be able to advise on the best time to start planting trees in your area.

When purchasing a bare-rooted fruit tree check for the following:


  • the trunk should be straight without any dramatic bends
  • it should be free from damage or wounds
  • roots should be firm and moist, not brittle and cracked or soft and spongy.
  • roots should radiate out in all directions and there should be plenty of them.
  • check the graft union – where the tree is attached to the rootstock. It should be straight and not bent.


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