How to Plant Bareroot and Potted Perennials

by Suzanne DeJohn

No matter what you're growing, one of the keys to a successful garden is getting plants off to a good start at planting time. First, be sure to match the plant to the planting location. For example, if a plant prefers full sun, select a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun each day. It's important to plant properly, too. Here are step-by-step instructions for planting bareroot and potted perennial plants.

Watch Our "How To Plant Perennials" Video

 

Bareroot Plants

Bareroot plants are dug and packaged when dormant. They may look like a jumble of roots but they're simply in a resting state and will grow once they're planted.

When and Where to Plant Bareroot Perennials Plant bareroot plants as soon as possible after you get them. Most perennials prefer well-drained soil; soggy soil will lead to rot. If your soil is wet consider planting in raised beds. For Full Sun plants, select a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. Half Sun plants prefer about 2 hours of direct sun or dappled sun all day. Shade plants, like most of our Woodland Wildflowers and Ferns, require moist, rich soil and Half Sun to Full Shade. (In regions with hot, sunny summers plant in Full Shade.)

To prepare for planting, remove and discard the packing material that surrounds the roots. Place the roots in a container of tepid water while you’re preparing the planting hole, or for up to an hour before planting.

Preparing the Soil
For best results, take some time to prepare the planting site. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 8"; you may want to mix some compost into the planting bed to help improve drainage. You can also add some granular, slow-release fertilizer at this time. However, don't use lawn fertilizer and don't add more than the amount recommended on the package, because this can inhibit flowering.

planting bare root hostaA bare root hosta finds a new home in a container.

bare root astilbeBare root astilbe is ready to plant.

Planting

Examine the roots to determine the approximate width and depth of the planting hole you’ll need. Unless otherwise noted, you’ll want to set the plant so the crown — the point where the stems and leaves meet the roots — sits about an inch below the soil surface. If you are unsure which end is up, look closely for buds or remnants of stems that indicate the top of the plant. If you’re still unsure, set the roots on their side. The plant will know which way to grow.

Dig a hole in the prepared soil to the necessary width and depth. Set the bareroot plant in the hole, spreading out the roots. Holding the plant with one hand, use the other to add soil around and in between the roots, firming it gently to eliminate air pockets. Adjust the planting depth if necessary. Water the soil, using a gentle flow to prevent soil from washing away.

It may take weeks or even a month for the growth on new plants to emerge. How quickly a perennial grows depends on a number of factors, including the type of plant, degree of dormancy and temperature of the soil.

Planting a bareroot plant

Unless otherwise instructed, set bareroot plants so the crown (where the stems meet the roots) sits about an inch below the soil line.

Potted Perennials

When your perennials arrive, open the box immediately, check the plants and water them if the soil is dry. Depending on the type of plant and the time of year, some of your potted plants may have green growth, some may not. Don't worry if you don't see any leaves; that just means the plant is dormant. The roots are healthy and ready to grow in your garden.

When and Where to Plant
Plant dormant (no signs of green growth) potted perennials as soon as possible after they arrive. For plants that have new leafy growth, wait to plant until after the last frost date. In the meantime, keep the plants in a cool room where they get some sun through a window, protect from freezing and keep soil moist but not soggy.

Most perennials prefer well-drained soil; soggy soil will lead to rot. If your soil is wet consider planting in raised beds. For Full Sun plants, select a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. Half Sun plants need at least 2 hours of direct sun or dappled sun all day. Shade plants can receive some morning and evening sun but should be shaded during the hottest part of the day.

Preparing the Soil
For best results, take some time to prepare the planting site. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 8"; you may want to mix some compost into the planting bed to help improve drainage. You can also add some granular, slow-release fertilizer at this time. However, don't use lawn fertilizer and don't add more than the amount recommended on the package, because this can inhibit flowering.

Planting

  1. Dig a hole as deep and a little wider than the pot. Most perennials should be planted at the same depth as they are in their containers.
  2. Carefully remove the plant from its pot by holding one hand over the soil and tapping the bottom of the pot. Squeezing the pot can help loosen the root ball from the pot. Don't pull on the plant or you may damage the stem.
  3. Place the root ball into the planting hole, double-checking to be sure that the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface. Then backfill the hole with soil, gently firming it as you go.
  4. Water the soil thoroughly, then apply a 2" deep layer of mulch around the plant to help maintain soil moisture and control weeds. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the plant stem to prevent rot.

Ongoing Care

  • Apply water as necessary to keep soil moist but not soaking wet. Even drought-tolerant plants need to be watered weekly until their roots get established. Apply a 2" to 3" layer of organic mulch, like shredded bark or pine straw, after planting to help conserve soil moisture and prevent weeds. Keep the mulch a few inches away from plant stems to prevent rot.
  • Be patient; it may take weeks or even a month for the new growth to emerge from the soil. How quickly the plant grows depends on a number of factors, including the type of plant, degree of dormancy and temperature of the soil.
  • “Deadhead” flowering plants by removing spent flowers. This encourages the plant to produce more blooms; it also helps bulbs to replenish the energy stored in their bulbs/roots.
  • Tall, top-heavy plants may need staking or another type of support to keep them from falling over from the weight of the flowers. Removing spent blooms will encourage some perennials to continue blooming.

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