A. Bare Root - As the name implies, these plants are shipped to you without
any soil surrounding the roots. This is an inexpensive way
of handling plants but it has its limitations too. Since
there is no soil to hold moisture, bare root handling is
generally limited to deciduous plants (those that lose their
leaves) during their dormant season. Larger evergreen plants
should never be handled bare root since their needles or
leaves will continue to lose moisture and cause real
Most fruit trees and some ornamental trees and shrubs are
dug from their growing fields in the fall after the leaves
have dropped. This will also include
bulbs harvested after their foliage has died back in the
fall. Bare root plants are then stored in cold rooms over
the winter. In the spring, they are removed, packaged and
sent to the customers.
The key to handling bare root stock is to avoid exposing
them to heat which will begin to trigger new growth. Keep
the plants as cool as possible until you are ready to plant
them in the ground. Since they do not have any soil around
the roots, the plants will still lose some moisture through
the twigs and bark but will be unable to replenish it. That
is why it is all important to not allow these plants to get
warm and start to push out new leaves. This will greatly
compound the stress from moisture loss which will cause
woody tissues and buds to die and perennials and bulbs to
dry up and shrivel away.
Another minor "exception" is that very
small, seedling evergreen trees are often handled bare root.
In this case, their roots are wrapped in moist newspaper or
other materials that keep them from drying out. Again, keep
them cool, moist and get them into the ground as quickly as
B. Ball and Burlap -
Often, larger sized trees and shrubs of
all types are dug during the growing season and their root
mass is encased in a burlap ball. This is intended to keep
as much of the root system as possible intact and covered in
soil. The best use of this type of plant stock is when it is
freshly dug during the current season. Sometimes, however,
the plants don't get sold and are stockpiled over the winter
at the nursery to be sold the following season. Although
these plants are usually o.k., they have been subjected to
an additional stress that freshly dug ones have not.
C. Container Grown - Every time you walk into a plant
nursery, you see black plastic containers filled with trees,
shrubs, perennials and other plants. Technically, to be considered a
"container" plant, it should have spent one entire growing
season in the pot. When you pull the plant out of the
container, its root system should stick together and the
soil or growing media should not just drop off.
Container grown items are the most flexible in terms of when
they may be planted. Since the root system is always intact
on these plants, they are less likely to suffer from
transplant shock. Therefore, they may be planted almost
anytime the soil is workable i.e. not frozen or too wet,
throughout the year.
D. Seed - It used to be common to grow certain
landscape plants, especially
annuals from seed sown directly
in the garden. Today, however, this is becoming a rare
occurrence since transplants grown in the greenhouse are so
readily available. Also, starting your own annual plants
from seeds sown in the ground will delay the time when
flowers will be available compared to using transplants. Of
course, this drawback can be eliminated by growing seedlings
under lights in the house so you can get them off to an
Seedlings purchased at the garden center or greenhouse
should be treated just like other container grown plants.
Most of these fall into the general category of bedding
The place where direct seeding often plays a role in the
landscape is in self-seeding. Certain plants such as the
biennial foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) or Sweet
William (Dianthus barbatus) need to be allowed to
come up from the seeds they drop on the ground in order to
maintain a continuous supply of plants. Also, a few
short-lived perennials including some primroses (Primula
sp.) or tickseed (Coreopsis sp) need to come up from
seed to keep the flow of plants going.
E. Bulbs - We grow a lot of different
plants in the landscape that we lump into a group called "bulbs"
although technically, many of them are not true bulbs in a
botanical sense. In this group we include true bulbs like
lilies along with
gladiolus, and several others.
key to selecting quality bulbs is to buy the largest,
firmest ones you can find. Since these are storage units,
the larger the bulb, the larger the plant it will produce
the following season. Any signs of rot or damage should send
you running in the opposite direction.
Now that we have explored the various ways that plants will
come to us from the nursery, we can cover a few tips for
planting each plant type including trees, shrubs,
herbaceous perennials, annuals, bulbs and vines.