The benefits of dormant season planting
This is the recommended month for planting tulips
Nerine bowdenii 'Alba'
The dormant season allows gardeners to buy plants that are supplied in ways other than in the usual containers we are all so familar with. The dormant season is considered to be from November until mid March. During this time nurseries and garden centres will be offering trees, shrubs and roses that are barerooted or rootballed. Plants supplied in this way will have been grown in the open field which means exactly what it implies, big fields full of rows of plants growing in soil.
There are advantages to both the supplier and the buyer in this method of growing. For the nursery they can mass produce plants of all sizes without the cost, both financial and environmental, of regular feeding, watering and compost needs that containerised plants demand. This cost saving means that the buyer can generally get a larger plant at a better price compared to an equivalent containerised version. The only downside is of course the season of supply is limited to the winter months.
A barerooted plant will be supplied devoid of all soil, so basically just a root system at its base. This is a particularly useful method for suppling large quantities of sapplings and hedging plants. This doesn't mean that bareroot plants have to be small. Many larger sized trees and shrubs can be sucessfully planted from barerooted stock.
A rootballed, sometimes refered to as burlapped, plant will be supplied with soil still intact around the roots system. This is achieved by carefully lifting the plant from the field and immediately wrapping the soil bound root system in a hessian sacking. The excess hessian is tied off around the top of the rootball and heavy elastic bands are used to provide additional support to the sacking. On very large specimens wire mesh is also used around the hessian to keep the soil intact during transportation. You may find some plants wrapt in plastic also.Rootballed plants have a longer planting period than bareroot up to the end of April as opposed to mid March. Roses will be supplied in tied plastic bags containing some compost but these are effectively bareroot not rootballed so should be planted as such.
As a word of warning, once the season is nearing its end garden centres will pot up any stock they have not sold. This is fine, but if you are buying a bareroot or rootballed plant that has been potted on don't plant it until it has produced a sustainable root system in its pot. This will usually be the start of July. When planting either rootballed or bareroot if you are not planting straight away you will need to heel them in or soil them up to protect the roots and keep them moist.
On planting bareroot plants prune off any large damaged roots to beyond the break. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root system, if there are some really long roots these can be cut back. This is known as root pruning and is an accepted practice. Plant to the existing soil mark on the stem of the plant except with roses that should be planted 5cms deeper. It is imperative that larger trees and shrubs are well staked and tied for support otherwise they will blow over or movement will inhibit good root establishment.
On planting a rootballed specimen the idea is to disturb the soil ball as little as possible. You will however need to remove any elastic bands or plastic wrapping or string from the support. I would recommend removing any wire mesh cages completely. Dig your planting hole place in your plant then assess your options. As a minimum I always cut away the tied hessian sacking from around the rootball top and fold away from the roots. If the root ball is very solid I would remove the hessian completely before planting. If the rootball looks like it will disintegrate easily leave it alone. The hessian will rot away in time anyway. If planting specimens that need a stake have help on hand to hold the plant while you are staking. If it topples over you are effectively back to a bareroot plant because of the distubance that will be caused.