November can be the perfect month to tackle planting or moving shrubs and trees, writes FiannÓ Nualláin.
We are now in the dormant season of the bulk of trees and shrubs. Roots or shoots, no longer actively growing, can — if not too mature — be lifted and transplanted without transpiration shock or major complications.
While this dormancy generally extends from November to February, autumn is often the time of moving the furniture (those statement shrubs) around the garden to provide a better structure or layout. It is also the time to get new trees and shrubs in.
The advantages of bareroot planting now is, apart from less risk of damage or failure, the soil is still soft enough to dig a planting hole and breezes weak enough to not rock the plant or stake for a good few weeks.
This allows enough time for the soil to settle and firm in around the roots and set the plant up to hold its ground until the warmer weather of spring and be primed to just come out of dormancy and extend roots into a firmer rhizosphere.
Spring planting can often be the wet-dry cycles of a fresh planting hole filled with soft compost – and the roots get caught up in extending and recoiling from those circumstances and while the sun encourages foliage growth on top and we assume all is well, below ground the shrub or tree is actually disadvantaged.
It will catch up on itself over the course of summer, but autumn/winter bareroot planted trees and shrubs will need less vigilance on your part.
What I like about bareroot is they come in bundles or large rootball with hessian wrap and not in a pot. So while this makes them cheaper to purchase it also has less cost on the planet.
Some may come with a soft plastic wrap to hold in moisture but most, especially mail order, are generally in expectation to be planted upon arrival or healed in to store until ready to plant out soon enough thereafter.
Hedging is popularly started this way, with ‘whips’ – pencil thin stems arriving and slotted in at regular intervals.
Roses are also popularly sold as bare roots. Some edible fruiting woody plants are also the routine at this time of the year — including new modalities such as hazel whips impregnate with truffle spores — two crops for the price and space of one.
While you should follow the instructions that come with your mail order or the advice of the garden centre or nursery you have purchased from, there are some standard rules of engagement when planting bareroots.
Be it a whip or a manageable root ball, a 5-10-minute soak in a bucket of water or a wrap in some tarp followed by a run of the hose to moisten up — helps not just rehydrate the roots but loosen out the roots to better space in your planting hole.
Always ensure the planting hole enables the right depth so that the non-rooting stem is at ground level and not below, and that the roots are below and not above.
The tradition is to water in afterwards as you would any planted plant but in dormancy it is more for the purposes of firming in — the water seeping down will push soil into closer contact with the roots.
Between planting and backfilling, you can amend the planting hole with organic matter and have a store of nutrients sit in wait until required in spring.
You can add mycorrhizal fungi at planting stage to help the roots make a connection with soil nutrients and also later in its growth cycle to increase its drought tolerance.
You can plant and backfill with your soil as is but top dress soil in spring as the roots and shoots begin to expand and let the plant benefit from extra substance then.
When it comes to the productive garden or allotment — there is a broad array of options. apples, nectarines, peaches, plums, almond, walnut, hazelnut, gooseberries, currants, cane fruits including raspberries, blackberries and hybrid fruits such as boysenberry and loganberries, and some super fruits including goji bushes and seabuckthorn.
But not every autumn planted edible is a woody plant —asparagus and rhubarb are also bareroot offerings.
Last week we looked at rosehips and haws from hawthorns and they are also sold bareroot at this time of the year if you wanted to invest in an edible hedge.
Your boundary doesn’t have to be concrete or wooden slats — it can be a haven for wildlife and a forageable resource, be that for some sloe gin or rosehip cough syrup.
A native hedgerow also looks great when providing a shelter belt to the breezes that knock upon your door or knock over a trellis in your veg patch.
I favour hazel, hawthorn, bird cherry, blackthorn and dog rose. But I have seen mixes with buckthorn, crab apple and guelder rose.
All these species yield edible or medicinal properties but also feed the birds and pollinators.
So what are you waiting for? Your local garden centre will have a broad range of bareroots for all purposes, including some tall trees — and you know the old saying, ‘the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago but the second best time is now”.