Bare root trees are a great, cost-effective way to spruce up the landscape. But to plant them right, you really need to do your homework first.

From storing the tree in a cool spot to digging the right size hole, bare root tree planting can make us question if we did everything just right. Then if the tree doesn’t sprout leaves as fast as we expect, we start to really worry! 

If you’ve been in a panic about your bare root tree not leafing out, keep reading to find whether or not you need to intervene.

Why Your Bare Root Tree Is Not Growing

How long do bare root plants take to grow?

What you gain in cost savings when you plant bare root trees, you have to pay for with patience!

It can take up to six weeks for a bare root tree to put out its first flush of leaves. So, if you planted in early spring, expect to see the first signs of growth by summer.

Reasons Why Your Bare Root Tree Is Not Leafing Out or Growing

If you’ve waited the obligatory six weeks after planting and your tree looks as bare as ever, here’s what could be going on.

  1. Moisture loss. Dehydration is a huge issue for bare root trees. If you forgot to soak the roots before planting or didn’t water the tree enough after the fact, the roots are probably dry and damaged. The best thing you can do now is to give the tree a slow, deep watering once a week.
  2. Harsh sun. Trees look great when the sunlight shows off their glow, but when they’re newly planted and trying to establish roots, hot sun is a setback! Help your tree cope with a two-to-four-inch layer of mulch around its base. Be sure not to pile that mulch against the tree’s trunk, though!
  3. Improper planting. Trees need to be planted in a hole about twice the size of their root spread. Without ample space from the get-go, it’s tough for trees to grow new roots. If you suspect your planting hole was a little too narrow, you can try replanting. First, check with an arborist to see if the tree can survive another move.
  4. Planting too late. Bare root trees can’t sit around for too long, waiting to be planted. You can keep them in a cool, shady spot for up to a week. But you’ve gotta make sure their roots stay moist. If you didn't store your bare root tree correctly, check to see if the tree is still alive with the tips below.

How to tell if a bare root tree is alive

Unfortunately, bare root trees can die pretty quickly if they aren't stored and planted properly.

Here’s how to tell if that’s the case for your tree.

  • Your tree had mold, mildew or a strange odor before you planted it.
  • The roots were limp, discolored and lightweight before you planted. Ideally, they should be full, heavy and white.
  • There are multiple broken branches.
  • If you scratch a few twigs on the tree, they’re brown and dry underneath instead of green and moist.

If your tree is dead, you need to remove it. Here’s how.

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