Forestry crews plant thousands of bareroot seedlings each year simply by making a slit in the soil, wedging the seedling in place, then closing the gap. So what's the big deal? That planting method may be fine for mass-planting expeditions, where casualties are expected, but it may cause slow growth and high mortality rates if used at home. Take a few extra steps when planting bareroot plants in your yard.
First, soak seedling roots in a bucket of water for up to 24 hours to make sure they are well-hydrated. Bareroot seedlings dry out in a flash, so keep the roots submersed in the water until the hole is dug and ready for planting. The hole should be wide enough to accept the roots when they're spread out. Mound the soil in the center of the hole (Photo I). Snip off any roots that are broken or substantially longer than the root mass (Photo J), then spread the roots out on the mounded soil. The base of the tree (where the trunk starts to taper out into roots) should be at ground level.
Backfill with the same soil you excavated. To help seedlings conserve water their first season in the ground, you may wish to add water-holding polymers to the backfill (Photo K). The polymers soak up moisture and release it as the surrounding soil dries.
Continued on page 5: Planting Rules (and When to Break Them)