Late autumn and early winter is an excellent time to plant, but that doesn’t mean conditions will always be perfect. If you find yourself geared up to plant and stuck in a freeze you’ll have no choice but to wait out for a thaw. Planting in frozen ground is not only difficult, but can also be harmful.
Read on, and you’ll find a few notes on what to do with your trees and shrubs while you’re waiting out a freeze, and how to get them off to the best and safest start in life. The way your plant was previously grown, and the state of its root system, affecting planting techniques significantly, so we’re going to break things down to containerized, root-balled, and bare-root plants.
Container Grown Plants
These are by far the easiest to store and plant. Keep them in their containers, as removal in a freeze risks snapping the smaller roots. Trees can be kept safely outdoors, and smaller specimens may need to be lent or laid against a wall or table to keep them from blowing over. If you are storing outside, you may wish to consider wrapping the container itself in bubble-wrap, or straw. This keeps the soil (and your potentially pricy container!) from freezing, despite being above ground level.
Alternatively, shelter them for additional security, particularly the more vulnerable species. It’s safe to move trees, shrubs and plants into a shed or garage for up to a week of storage. Just make sure it’s a cool environment. Plants (even evergreens) need to be dormant over the winter, and moving from hot to cold too quickly can damage the plant.
Root Balled Plants
These need a little more care and attention than container-grown plants, lacking the benefit of a container to protect them. The same rules as above apply, with the addition of needing to keep the root-ball hidden from frost, and drying winds. Straw and a sheet cover is an excellent combination to keep the root-ball safe, though you may still wish to shelter your plant in a cool shed or garage for up to a week as well.
Root-balled plants come ready to plant, and containerized plants will just need pulling from the (thawed!) container. Once the thawed ground is moderately moist place them in an appropriately sized pit, as deep as the root ball’s height, and periodically check soil moisture afterwards. Evergreen plants still need water over winter, though frost can make it unavailable. To avoid wilting you may still have to water, if necessary.
Bare Root Plants
Shrubs, trees and hedges are often supplied bare root, and can be vulnerable if not looked after properly. Initially they should be moistened and bagged, safe for storage in a cool garage for up to a week.
Any longer than this and they’ll need to planted on a temporary basis. This is called ‘heeling in’. Simply dig a trench large enough to accommodate the roots and refill lightly, watering well. It’s important not to remove them if the ground freezes, though as an alternative they could be kept in their bundles in a free-draining container, with compost around the roots.
Before staking and permanent planting, it may be worth submerging the roots in a bucket of water (for no more than five minutes!) to ensure they’re moistened thoroughly.
This post was written by Matthew Banes on behalf of English Woodlands, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of trees, plants, and planting accessories since 1919.