Making the most of bare root bargains

The sunshine we’ve had lately has been very welcome and not just by the gardening team at Aberglasney! So many plants have suddenly burst into life, Narcissus, early flowering Cherries, Crocus and Dutch Iris are in full bloom at the moment with the rest of the early spring display hot on their heels. Many gardeners consider this to be the planting season, especially for herbaceous plants. At Aberglasney however we generally plant throughout the winter months as long as the weather permits. The main reason for this is practicality as opposed to it be being a good time. However spring or late winter is ideal if you are lifting or dividing your own plants. These divisions are known as bare root plants and are often far better than potted plants in flower. Today you can still buy plants as bare roots from good nurseries as well as our own plant sales area at Aberglasney. There are a number of reasons too as to why they are better: no peat is used, no plastic is used, generally they make much bigger plants quicker and most importantly they are far better value for money.

We have recently planted bare roots from the Gardens and bought some choice new varieties as bare root. On closer examination we found that you get much bigger pieces than with potted plants and of course they are much cheaper. Now this all sounds great and the question is why don’t all plants come as bare root? The answer is complicated as some do well as bare root, others don’t like it and some are just not available.

Many plants especially the more special woodlanders never seem to do that well for us either as dry bulbs or roots, we find even lilies are better when pot grown. Many other plants such as Agapanthus don’t flower after major root disturbance and so can take many years to flower again. This is also the case for plants with big tap roots. Some like Siberian Iris are ok if they are kept moist so that the plants do not get stressed. Sometimes plants are also divided too small which means they take an age to get going. A good rule of thumb is that a bare rooted plant should be around the size of your fist with at least two or three good growing points.

We have found that most fibrous rooted plants like the aster family or Geranium do well as bare rooted plants. Likewise plants with rhizomes like bearded iris or ‘Red Hot Pokers’ also do well as bare root as long the piece is not too small and it hasn’t been left to dry out. Many bulbs and corms also do well in this form but you seldom see them sold as bare root but more as counted bulbs.

Planting them is often a little different in that it is best to plant an odd number quite close together. This creates a large clump very quickly that will also be easy to divide in the future. When planting a bare root the technique is a little different too to potted plants as you need to shake them to allow soil to work its way between the roots. Alternatively you can sometimes get away with making a slit in the ground and sliding the bare root into the gap which is very easy. Either way bare root plants are well worth trying from a good grower especially if you fancy a bargain.

Tips for the week

  • Look up bare root plant suppliers and treat yourself
  • Direct sow hardy vegetables outside in seed drills
  • Harden off potted vegetables during mild days
  • Clean up grasses by pulling not cutting back
  • Prune hybrid tea roses