Thursday, 15 April 2021

Buying "bare root" plants: when NOT to buy

 I've been feeling a bit vexed lately, at the number of adverts I've seen for people selling "bare root" shrubs.

What's wrong with that? I hear you ask. 

Well, a "bare root" plant is one which has been grown in open ground, by a plant nursery, specifically to be sold in the dormant season, that's December-March. They are dug up to order: this means that they live happily in the ground, until a customer places an order and pays for them, at which time they are carefully dug up, the loose soil is shaken off, they are usually wrapped in either damp hessian, sawdust, or sphagnum moss, or put straight into plastic bags, to keep the roots damp: they are usually keep refrigerated, until they are posted off, or collected. 

This ensures they are in the best possible condition, on arrival.

A "bare root" plant is NOT one which has been ripped out of someone's garden, often by a builder, tossed aside while they do the actual job for which they were hired - you know, laying a patio, building a wall, doing some plumbing work etc - and then, at the close of the day, the owner realises how much a shrub costs to buy, and decides to offer it for sale, instead of tossing it in the skip.

By now, it's been sitting outside for the best part of the day and the roots are bone dry, but the top part still looks good.

 It seems to be a side-effect of Covid-19: people have been "trapped" in their houses for a year,  so they are improving their gardens, making them more usable, by extending patios, having wooden out-houses built to be used as home offices etc, which means that plants are being removed.

And they are - not unreasonably - trying to recoup some of the money by selling off the plants they no longer want. 

Here's a typical example:

How awful is that?

"But the leaves look all green, glossy and healthy,"  I hear you say.

Well, that's because it's an evergreen, and it will take a couple of days for the leaves to start showing any signs of distress.

But look at those roots - bone dry, damaged (many of them have been broken) and frankly, that's too small a rootball to support a plant that size. 

When you buy a container-grown plant from a garden centre, it may well look like a small pot for a lot of plant, but the plant has grown in the pot, and filled it with roots. This is an "outdoor" plant, whose roots have spread sideways with joy and glee: so the rootball should be quite a bit bigger than this.

The white van gives you a clue that it's been carelessly dug up by a builder, rather than carefully dug up by the owner.

So no, I wouldn't be paying £30 for this poor thing. Especially half-way through April, or in the middle of summer, or at any time other than the dormant period of December-March.....

If you are planning to sell plants from your garden, here are a couple of suggestions.

 1) advertise them a couple of weeks before the builders are due, and title the advert "Dig Your Own!". Then whoever wants them can come and do the hard work for themselves. Advantages: you don't have to break your back digging them out, and if they subsequently die, then it's not your fault. Disadvantages: if the buyer is canny, they will take the biggest possible rootball, and they won't give much consideration to the plants around the desired one!

2) advertise them early, then when someone agrees to buy them, dig them up yourself, and either keep them in a bucket of water, or wrap the roots up well, as the nurseries do. Advantages: no-one trashing your garden, and the buyer is more likely to be happy. Disadvantage: it's hard work for you! And if they fail to turn up, then you will need to find a new buyer quickly. 

3) if we are past the dormant season, then dig them up and put them into pots - plastic pots if you have any large enough. Let them settle for a couple of weeks, and if they are still flourishing, you can sell them as potted plants, and get a better price than you can for bare-root.

And if you are thinking of buying some "cheap" shrubs from someone else's garden, ask them if you can come and dig them out yourself!

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